With over 500,000 trucking companies and nearly 3 million trucks on our nation’s roads, trucks move nearly 70 percent of America’s freight. In Nevada we are more reliant on trucking than any other transportation mode, moving 94 pecent of our state’s manufactured tonnage. There is a symbiotic relationship between trucking and every sector of the economy. Retail, manufacturing, mining, energy, agriculture and gaming all rely on trucks, and trucks are reliant on all of these sectors to drive our activity. Trucking is a key element in interstate commerce.
This wasn’t always the case. Although the modern trucking industry has existed for over a century it is still younger than the railroad, which still holds tremendous influence over transportation policy today. At the turn of the 20th century, trucks were used in limited local applications. If you needed freight moved coast to coast, rail was your only realistic option.
In 1919 a young Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower was part of a military convoy from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, Calif. It took a total of 62 days to make the trip. Nevada was particularly tough. Ike described the roads across Nevada from Utah to Carson City as a “succession of dust, ruts, pits and holes.” It was this trip that solidified his support for an interstate highway system, funded by fuel taxes, which would be designed not just to move munitions, tanks and troops, but interstate commerce. This system has driven our economy since its creation.
While the building and maintaining of our roads and highways to ensure seamless transport across our states has had a positive impact on trucking, the lack of stable funding for the interstate system is threatening Eisenhower’s vision. We have not had a fuel tax increase in America since 1992. In fact much of today’s current highway program is funded on budgetary schemes such as pension smoothing which allow companies to forgo tax deductible payments into their employee’s 401k programs, and then use the increased tax revenue for roads.
This has led to some states and members of congress to call for devolution, meaning states would keep the fuel tax revenue instead of sending it to the federal government for distribution. Losing sight of how roads connect communities, not just in a particular state but across the country wouldn’t just have a negative impact on the trucking industry, but on all of those economic sectors that rely on the efficient movement of freight.
Since 1980 when the trucking industry was economically deregulated it was a goal for trucking to be shaped by market forces under a nationally uniform set of regulations. This was a 180-degree change from where the industry was in 1935 when the federal government regulated truck rates, routes, and the type of freight that could be hauled.
Economically deregulating the trucking industry had a huge positive impact on the economy. Freight got a lot cheaper and enabled just-in-time delivery, which eliminated the need for retailers, manufacturers and others to have inventory and raw materials on site. There is no more storeroom at the J.C. Penny’s where they keep inventory not being sold on the floor — that storeroom is now on the back of a truck.
Even with innovations such as just-in-time delivery, no truck moves without a driver. Professional truck drivers need a great amount of skill and focus to safely pilot an 80,000-pound truck. For much of the 20th century, truckers were viewed as knights of the road, who would always stop to assist a stranded motorist. The CB culture of the 1970s, which brought us the “asphalt cowboy” has now migrated to truckers as true safety professionals. Although the view of truckers has made a positive turn, it is still a huge challenge to get qualified drivers behind the wheel.
Nationwide, we are 48,000 drivers short. We are an overwhelmingly male industry, 94 percent, with an average age of 49 years old. Lack of truck parking, being detained at shipper facilities and government regulation make the freedom of the open road less alluring.
As a nation and an industry we need to focus on the implementation of technology, and forward thinking policy changes that look at the transportation system in its entirety, so we can ensure that Trucking Moves America Forward.
Paul Enos is chief executive officer of the Nevada Trucking Association.