Chris Spear emphatically making a point in address to ATA members .  Photo: Evan Lockridge

Chris Spear emphatically making a point in address to ATA members. Photo: Evan Lockridge

LAS VEGAS. In a fast-paced and wide-ranging address, new American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear introduced himself to ATA members and asserted that under his stewardship, the industry’s biggest lobby will “get in the game” to advance an array of trucking’s interests in Washington D.C. and on the state level. 

“The state of our industry is strong, but without leadership, unity or an aggressive pursuit of results, our future is uncertain,” said Spear. He said that’s why ATA is “building a structure, a team and an agenda that not only provides certainty, but results.”

He also gave frank notice to foes of trucking. “If you want to throw the first proverbial punch, you’d better knock us down because you will feel the one we throw back,” Spear said. “ATA will fight your one-line soundbites and baseless rhetoric and we will publicly call out the hidden agendas of other industry groups.”

Spear began his Oct. 3 speech here at the ATA Management Conference & Exposition on a nostalgic note, recounting how he grew up with trucking. He recalled that some of his “best memories growing up” were of rides in the cab when his father “trucked grain from the wheat fields of Nebraska to the silos,” noting that was when he “first realized what it was like to earn a day’s pay.”

Shifting gears, he dived headlong into the sorry state of politics inside the Beltway-- and what trucking must do to counteract it.  Spear said trucking “cannot be driven by Washington… People’s livelihoods depend on the decisions you make. Unlike [in] Washington, there’s no room in the real world for complacency or incompetence.”

Spear mourned the death of compromise in national politics and explained how that loss has brought governance by Congress to a near standstill for years now.

“Extreme ideology is largely to blame” for political gridlock, he said. “And for the D.C. think tanks that preach it, sound public policies, such as funding our nation’s infrastructure, are being suffocated by a bunch of cubicle-dwelling ideologues who think it’s cool to shut down our government.” He said “this propaganda” has produced an “11th Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not compromise,’” and then asked, “What in life doesn’t involve some kind of compromise?”

The way out of this morass for trucking, Spear said, is to make it “our responsibility to make sure that issues impacting our way of life aren’t surrendered to those who would rather criticize than look for solutions.

“We need to help Congress shape and pass good bills,” he added. “And that may involve some compromise. Yet I believe that can be done without sacrificing one’s convictions.”

As for the balance of this year, Spear said ATA is “working hard to deliver two major victories on Capitol Hill this December— a permanent hours-of-service fix and preempting states from adding new layers of meal and rest-break requirements on carriers operating across state lines.”

Spear went on to lay out a range of policy initiatives he said ATA will be pursuing, including:

  • Attaining “sustainable” infrastructure spending. Spear said the inability of Congress to take up an indexed fuel tax increase leaves ATA no choice but to give up in it. Instead, he said the lobby will develop “a new means for funding our nation’s infrastructure” that it will present on Capitol Hill early next year.
  • Pushing for tax reform. He said trucking is “already one of the most regulated and taxed industries in America. In the eyes of some elected officials, we look like a money-filled piñata. I’m here to tell you that those days, these impressions of our industry, are over.” Moe specifically, he said that “shaving just five points off our corporate tax rate would allow you to make critical investments in your businesses and your employees.”
  • Promoting international trade agreements, such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Spear, noting that trucks move some 70% of the freight between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico, contended that “any attempt to reopen or threaten this longstanding [NAFTA] agreement could have dire repercussions on our industry. And not adopting TPP will undoubtedly will push those potential Asian Rim partners towards a future agreement with China. America relies of free trade and trucking is key.”
  • Ensuring that trucking will have its say in the development of regulations concerning autonomous-vehicle technologies. “The trucking industry cannot afford to concede an entire regulatory framework to another mode of transportation,” he said, in reference to the auto industry… I will see to it that ATA takes its seat and drives this outcome.”
  • Continuing to engage with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and other agencies to ensure “each rule is transparent, based on sound science and research, and accomplishes its intended goal. He said regulations that ATA is keeping a close eye on include those for speed limiters, ELDs, sleep apnea, drug and alcohol clearinghouse, young drivers, truck parking, insurance minimums, and the Compliance Safety Accountability program.

Spear concluded by affirming that the state of the trucking industry is “strong,” but added that “without leadership, unity or an aggressive pursuit of results, our future is uncertain.” He said that’s why ATA is “building a structure, a team, and an agenda that not only provides certainty, but results.”

Related: ATA to “Take Seat at the Table” for Making Autonomous-Driving Policy