A recent announcement by the Professional Truck Driver Institute that the truck driver training school certification group is looking into going independent again didn't give much insight into the conflicting opinions and concerns of PTDI board members on the topic.
Conversations with several members of the transition committee revealed that, as would be expected in as large and diverse a group as the PTDI board, not everyone agrees that independent is the way to go. And indeed, the board has not decided for sure to drop its management contract with the Truckload Carriers Assn. It is merely looking into the possibility, determining whether it is financially and logistically feasible and desirable.
The recent board meeting where this was decided was not exactly smooth sailing, according to participants, although some felt it was more confrontational than others. Some even described a power struggle going on between school members and carrier members, with the schools trying to get more control of the group.
"Some even have felt that maybe the schools should take it over, and I'm definitely opposed to that," said Robert McClanahan of Central Tech, one of the largest truck driver training facilities in the country. "I don't think the schools should be policing themselves."
The Commercial Vehicle Training Assn. apparently was the source of many of the disturbing comments. CVTA Chairman Jay Shelly, who another board member described as a "hothead," is on the transition committee. CVTA Executive Director Mike O'Connell, who is not actually on the PTDI board but works with them in his capacity with CVTA, said that he and others raised some issues that surprised other board members.
"It was the first time a lot of people were hearing these things," O'Connell said. "Some concerns are well founded. Most are misunderstandings, we dealt with most of the misunderstandings at the meeting. The concerns we expressed (such as the distribution of board members between school members and carrier members) were embraced by the PTDI board and they said, 'Let's get this worked out.'"
McClanahan points out that the board of directors is rather large, and there are many different parts of the industry represented. "I think it's great, we need that diversity, (but it doesn't always make for smooth sailing). A few of us were caught off guard by some of the comments. But I think the majority of us are happy with PTDI; it's come a long way under TCA."
The question on some people's minds is, why go independent at all, after four years of management by TCA have gotten the group well out of first gear? Several reasons appear to be at work:
* PTDI members see federal mandatory driver training standards looming on the horizon. They believe the group will have more credibility when it comes to working with the government to develop those standards if it is a stand-alone accrediting organization. Some feel that the carriers have too much say-so on the board; others strongly disagree and note that carrier input is vital to the group's mission.
* Although the issue of going independent has been raised in the past, the departure of TCA President Lana Batts, a strong force behind PTDI, appears to have given the group an incentive to get moving.
* Some members felt that PTDI had strayed from its mission of certifying truck driver training courses by getting involved in other issues, such as TCA's 18-year-old driver pilot program.
Some of the questions that need to be answered before PTDI can become a totally independent accrediting organization include whether they financially can break away from TCA, where to find a strong leader, and how much support PTDI will continue to get from the trucking industry on its own.
Bob Rothstein, TCA general counsel and a member of the new three-member management committee appointed to lead PTDI in Lana's absence, points out that PTDI was always expected to spread its wings at some point.
"TCA took over the management of PTDI four years ago, primarily because it was a very good concept but they didn't have enough schools to reach critical mass, and needed insulation from financial expenses. But ultimately expected that PTDI would spin off as an independent assn. PTDI expected that as well."