If I had to describe 2012 in one word, it would be meh. Whether it’s originally one of those great expressive Yiddish words, or first fell from the animated lips of Homer Simpson, it perfectly embodies this year’s neither-here-nor-there, uninspiring slog through issues and conditions that never reach crisis status, but also never seem to be resolved. Or to paraphrase one executive, there’s been nothing to really complain about, but no one’s dancing on the table. So as trucking readies itself for a new year, here are my wishes to deliver us from meh in 2013.
First and foremost is the obvious wish that the economy finally pick up some steam. This year was certainly better than the last few, but what growth there was was at best anemic and tentative. As a good mirror of overall economic activity, the for-hire side of trucking experienced some recovery in freight volumes and rates, but many had been anticipating steady and solid growth from one quarter to the next. Instead, freight activity started out looking strong then proceeded to bump up and down as the country’s overall economic jitters were clearly reflected in trucking activity. Here’s wishing 2013 brings us the long-anticipated return to more vigorous economic growth.
In January, Fleet Owner’s industry outlook focused on all of the regulations and legislation expected to reach resolution in 2012. As we close the year, many have not achieved that resolution, including the most important. Despite assurances that they were imminent, final revisions to hours-of-service rules and a mandate for electronic onboard recorders for automating driver logs are still hanging fire. And a funding mechanism to bring needed investment to our transportation infrastructure was also kicked down the road into 2013 as Congress once again refused to do the heavy lifting required to come up with a long-term highway bill acceptable to both parties.
Here’s wishing the new year brings us some certainty on the work rules that govern trucking’s daily operations, and that federal legislators find an acceptable compromise on a multi-year highway funding bill that will bring stability and sanity to crucial repair and expansion of our transportation infrastructure.
Not to be completely negative about regulators, there was a bit of forward movement this year. Even though some fleets wish it was otherwise, one piece of federal regulation that really took hold this year was the Comprehensive, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program. However, flaws in the system became apparent once fleets started generating ratings. To its credit, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has tried to address some of those flaws and modified the program with minor changes taking effect this month. So let our CSA 2013 wish be that those changes help the program more quickly and accurately identify safety risks.
One more issue that languished in the land of meh this year is trucking’s chronic shortage of qualified drivers. With the tepid economy presenting only a modest challenge to freight capacity, many fleets moved to revive driver recruitment efforts. But that was more in anticipation of better times than the desperation we’ve seen in the past. If my first wish—a more robust economy—comes to pass, the situation will quickly become much more urgent. So let my last wish for trucking in 2013 be for a breakthrough in its ability to find and retain the skilled drivers it needs.
Oh, yes, of course there is one more wish that almost goes without saying—may 2013 be trucking’s safest year yet.