SAN ANTONIO. Bill Graves grew up in the trucking industry. His grandfather and father started a trucking business in 1935, Graves explained during his keynote address at the Meritor and Pressure Systems International (PSI) Annual Fleet Technology Event on Wednesday in San Antonio, TX.
Then the former Kansas governor took a bit of a sabbatical from the industry to focus on his political career.
Graves, who is now president and CEO of the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), told the audience, as he said his father tells him: “I wandered for 22 years in a political wilderness and finally got back into the industry we all know and love.”
During his speech, Graves discussed the essentiality of, as well as the challenges facing the trucking industry.
“We all have a bright future to look forward to,” Graves said, noting that by 2032 there will be an estimated 400 million people in this country. “And that means more stuff.”
Last year, he said, the commercial trucking industry moved 10 billion tons of freight. He added that the projected tonnage for 2023 is expected to be around 11.5 billion – that’s 23 trillion pounds of freight, or 6.3 billion pounds per day to be transported every day of the year, he said.
Revenue, Graves said, surpassed $700 billion for freight last year, which is an indication of future demand.
“The trajectory is certainly in the right direction, and I think it’s going to get even stronger,” Graves said. “The density in terms of where people live and work and recreate in this country moves right into the trucking sweet spot. Essentiality is not a question.”
Though he believes the trucking industry has a bright future to look forward to, Graves cited certain challenges the industry as a whole has been dealing with. Fuel efficiency and CSA standards are two.
When the Environmental Protection Agency rolls out phase two of its fuel efficiency standards, it will include trailers, Graves said. He added that the type of automatic tire inflation products that Meritor and PSI provide will be what is needed for fleets to meet the requirement for fuel efficiency standards.
“You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had to sit in front of members of Congress who seem to believe they have to press on us to get us to want to be more fuel efficient,” Graves said. “And I’m like, you don’t understand, no one wants to be more fuel efficient than everyone in the trucking industry.”
Speaking directly to fleet owners and managers, Graves said the economics behind equipment that Meritor and PSI provide for proper tire maintenance is obvious in terms of cost savings and the betterment of their business.
“It means a lot to me that it’s part of that safety equation because every time there’s a tragic accident we spend countless hours just trying to clean up,” he said. “The fact that we have so many people now looking at various technologies to make operations of our equipment safer is very meaningful to us.”
Also regarding safety, Graves said the ATA has been working in Washington to address some CSA safety regulations and reporting issues.
“We think the idea of publicly reporting the safety and efficacy of various fleets on operating safely is really good for our industry and for this country,” Graves said. “But the data’s got to be accurate. We can’t have public access to information that mischaracterizes either a safe carrier as unsafe or, quite frankly, an unsafe carrier as safe. So what we’re trying to do is make sure that data set is correct and accurately representative of our industry.”
Another challenge facing the industry and country in general is infrastructure. MAP-21, the current legislation that guides the country on infrastructure investment, expires at the end of the month. And Congress must act within the next 18 days.
“They’re going to break for Memorial Day weekend and not be back, so they’ve got about eight days,” Graves said. “This chapter has been written. They’re going to do another extension of the highway bill. They’re going to try to find around $11 billion. I’m not sure where the money will come from – some sort of proverbial bake sale that we’re going to have just to gather up as much money as we can. And we’re going to kick the can down the road into December.”
“Congress just needs a little more time to figure this out,” he continued. “And this is about the 30th time there’s been an extension that’s involved needing a little more time to figure this out. Roads and bridges aren’t free, and roads and bridges aren’t cheap. And Congress at some point is going to have to recognize how important roads and bridges are in this country. Not just to commercial freight movers – it’s everything about our freedom and our mobility.”
Graves said within the next week he believes we’ll see an $11 million package that extends transportation into December. But that also means it starts to push into the presidential political season, which he said could drag the process along.
“It’s possible that we may not see a full highway bill until sometime in 2017,” he said. “And that’s terribly discouraging, but it’s simply the reality of how that system works.”