Bill Graves speaks at ATA MC&E in Philadelphia. Photo: Evan Lockridge

Bill Graves speaks at ATA MC&E in Philadelphia. Photo: Evan Lockridge

PHILADELPHIA – “Most motor carriers have had a pretty good year – not great – but pretty good for 2015,” said Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations, in his annual report on the state of the industry during ATA’s Management Conference & Expo, which opened here Saturday. “And 2016 is looking as good if not slightly better.”

With a healthy economy and strong freight traffic, trucking in all its diverse segments is seeing a “95% full” situation, he said, alluding to the old glass-half-full-or-half-empty metaphor. The 5% that’s empty represents disagreements among the segments over some of the issues, but the ATA federation’s councils, affiliates and state associations give voices to those diverse interests and overall achieves a degree of unity, Graves told a luncheon audience Sunday.

He quoted from a recent survey by the American Transportation Research Institute identifying the Top 10 issues that now concern truck operators: Hours of service; Compliance, Safety and Accountability; the driver shortage; driver retention; truck parking; electronic data recorders; driver health and wellness; the economy; highway infrastructure; and distracted driving.

Language in highway and appropriations bills now being considered by Congress would address some of those concerns, which shows that “ATA is all over it” in its government relations activities on Capitol Hill, he said.

However, Graves warned of “the disarray within the House of Representatives that could result in all sorts of negative outcomes, unintended consequences and mischief for our economy. It just seems ironic that given all the turmoil that exists throughout the world, that the single biggest threat we may face is from our own government.”

"It just seems ironic that given all the turmoil that exists throughout the world, that the single biggest threat we may face is from our own government.”

ATA has made progress in overhauling its activities and has a “mission and purpose” that focuses on safety with profitability. “If you cannot deliver on that commitment than you have no business trying to deliver freight,” he said. One aspect is continued backing, with associates’ support, of the America’s Road Team program that sends top drivers into communities to preach safety and spread goodwill for the industry.

Membership is steadily growing, the Trucking Moves America Forward campaign is successful, and support for the group’s “advocacy and political action” effort is strong, Graves said.

“Never before has ATA pursued as broad and significant a policy agenda as we do today,” he said. “And as you will hear throughout this meeting, if Congress can find a path forward to simply ‘do business’ in the next 45 days, we will have what I believe is the most impressive list of achievements ever accomplished by the ATA.”

The U.S. continues to grow, and "more people equals more stuff," he said. "And while the other freight modal partners will continue to play supporting roles in this economy, the star of the show has been, is, and will continue to be the truck."

On politics, Graves, a former Republican governor of Kansas, noted the high number of candidates seeking that party’s nomination for the highest office in United States, and commented, “Who would have thought that we’d have half the country running for President?”

Although only one can win the contest that won't end for far more than a year, all will profit from their celebrity status by appearing on talk shows and the lecture circuit, proclaiming their beliefs and railing against the government, he said.

“Being angry at government is apparently a characteristic that’s required of anyone running, which is ironic in that the goal of winning the election is to be head of the government that most Republicans apparently despise or is supported by businesses that most Democrats loathe.

“Let me tell you something,” Graves continued. “Government is not the enemy. Sloppy, wasteful government is the enemy. Overreaching, underperforming government is the enemy. Too much government creates dependencies that stifle responsibility and initiative. Too little government leaves gaps in critical programs and services that are necessary elements in sustaining this nation’s quality of life….

“And the problem I think we face is that too many people running for President don’t have the skill set to manage their way out of a paper bag.”