Inside the Washington Beltway—Critical Regulatory Matters Impacting LTL
Authored by SMC³ on September 28, 2023
Sometimes it feels like the only regulatory certainty is the uncertainty for the less-than-truckload (LTL) industry. The first workshop in the fourth series of SMC3’s LTL Online Education focused on all things regulatory, and Washington D.C. insiders and transportation regulation experts explored today’s landscape impacting LTL and the next steps to prepare for potential regulatory impacts. Bill Sullivan, executive vice president for advocacy at American Trucking Associations (ATA), and Mike Kelley, former vice president of public affairs and chief sustainability officer at Yellow Corp., shared their beltway insider perspectives during the session.
Sullivan, a self-described “D.C. swamp creature,” has worked as an aide to two U.S. Senators and served as appropriations liaison for the Department of Justice before his role advocating for ATA. Before joining Yellow Corp., Kelley worked for a member of Congress—decades ago when “monster trucks” started coming through neighborhoods and the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) was enacted. He was also past chair and co-chair at ATA.
“The trucking industry came to Washington to lobby for the STAA and I was impressed with their safety and data approach. We began working with them on issues,” Kelley said. “The result was a 25% gain in fuel efficiency.”
Drive for Reducing Emissions and Adopting EVs
It didn’t take long before the two panelists addressed one of the biggest issues in LTL transportation today: the regulatory push for emission reductions and a shift to hydrogen and renewable energy-powered trucks. “The upfront costs for shippers, 3PLs, and LTL carriers are high. But it’s not only about EVs and zero-tailpipe emission vehicles. Every industry is struggling to find good workers. Even though freight is soft now, we’re still having trouble finding drivers,” Kelley said.
Sullivan pointed out that there has already been an 83% reduction in emissions from pre-2010 standards to today. He also noted that one truck in 1988 emits about the same as 60 trucks today, and there is new clean diesel equipment available now but there needs to be incentives for the LTL industry to update equipment. “We can’t will our way to zero emissions equipment with no bridge to get there,”
Both panelists agreed that the trucking industry wants to clean up the air and has been working toward it for years. They stressed that now is the time to develop standards, targets, and timelines to get it right.
Decades of Change in the Making
When Kelley got started in the transportation industry three decades ago, the white-hot focus was truck safety. Since then, safety is still a chief concern but the tide has shifted to concerns about the environment—making sustainability another top issue. When the global pandemic hit, supply chain resilience was elevated to a top-three focus.
“Supply chain became top-of-mind for Congress and the Administration. Members of Congress order things online too,” Kelley said. “This is an opportunity for our industry as officials are thinking about us more often.”
Sullivan concurred, noting that “everyone understands where water, toilet paper, and groceries come from now.” He also said that demographics are shifting and the industry needs access to new talent—immigrants and young people. This now puts a spotlight on job training, qualifications, and changing drug policies that are all converging.
“Changes over the last 25 years have led to a pendulum swing and it’s interesting to live through it. It’s a moving target,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan also said the industry needs more state and federal dollars for training and assistance programs—for drivers, mechanics, and technicians. The ATA is working on bringing more veterans and women into the industry. It’s also tapping into talent in inner cities and enticing young high school graduates who don’t want to attend college by proposing a good middle-class career in trucking.
“Right now, the average age of a driver going to trucking driving school is 35. They typically have a family and usually focus on over-the-road trucking where they are gone for long periods of time,” said Sullivan. “We need to support ancillary programs to make the industry more welcoming to others.”
How to Impact Rule-Making
It’s important for the LTL industry to participate in the rule-making process, Sullivan said. Almost all proposed regulations can be found at regulations.gov and the ATA pushes out a list so the industry is aware of what is being considered. There is also a required public comment period and “shame on us if we don’t comment,” Sullivan said.
Kelley noted that he used to work on the district side of Congress and advised the LTL industry to get to know the transportation staff member from the U.S. House Representative’s office in their district. “If you file comments, send it to the transportation staffer also,” Kelley said.
Education and Advocacy Matter
If you’re in operations, sales, and pricing, there is tremendous value in keeping up with public policy issues that impact LTL transportation. Read publications, set Google alerts, attend panel discussions, network with SMC3, join trucking associations to stay connected, and discuss issues with experts and peers, Kelly said.
“There are a lot of free ways to stay up to speed. It will be worth your time,” Kelley said.
On the political side, Sullivan advised those in the LTL industry to not underestimate the responsiveness of elected officials. They want to hear from their constituents—the people who vote for them. Write letters, make phone calls, or visit their local district office to make your voice heard. Even a relatively small carrier can make their voice heard at the state level and in Washington, D.C.
“For Driver Appreciation Week, I took one of our drivers from Maine to see U.S. Senators Angus King and Susan Collins. The driver was nervous about meeting politicians, but they’re just people,” said Sullivan. “Don’t hesitate to write an email or letter, or call them, to let them know what you think. It’s listened to and tracked by members of Congress.”
Interested in joining the next hybrid session? Register here – https://bit.ly/ltlonlinelearning