After a decade of uncertainty, some stability would be a nice change
As 2010 comes to a close, it’s good time to reflect on the official end of the first decade of this new millennium.
Riding a wave of careless enthusiasm through the late 1990s, we were indeed partying like it was 1999, but the foundation of that economic boom was already showing cracks. The dot-com bubble burst, starting the tumble down. In the trucking industry, easy access to financing put practically anyone who wanted a truck into his or her own driver’s seat. But as the economy headed south and the bankruptcies grew, the market was flooded with used trucks — a glut that slowed the trucking recovery.
All this also coincided with the first round of regulations in 2002 requiring heavy-duty engine makers to reduce emissions output. The decade saw subsequent lower-emission engine hurdles, most recently in 2007 and 2010.
Of course, the other major factor of the early-decade recession was the crippling effects of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which eventually led the country into two wars abroad. While we saluted the trucking industry’s response to the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the attacks’ impact on trucking was far-reaching and continues to ripple through the industry today as the possibility of other terrorist attacks involving the transportation sector remains high.
As the economy began to recover, the Bush administration handed down a controversial rewrite of the hours-of-service rule — its first revision in six decades. The rule has been tweaked and challenged numerous times during the past several years, and at press time, we were awaiting the Obama administration’s promise of yet another revision of the regulation.
The mid-2000s enjoyed a decent recovery that saw freight return to good levels, driver wages increase (mostly due to the HOS), and truck sales hit record levels before the disastrous recession of late 2007 hit full speed the following year.
The Bush administration also pursued another controversial path when it implemented a pilot cross-border trucking program to satisfy a provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement that requires reciprocal access between the United States and Mexico to transport NAFTA goods. The move prompted a series of court challenges from labor and some trucking groups opposed to allowing Mexican truck access to U.S. highways outside a designated commercial border zone.
Worrying about something that happened in the past is like watering last year’s crops.
— Mike Reilly, Randall-Reilly CEO
One of the first acts of the Obama administration when it took office in 2009 was to cut funding for the pilot program. The Mexican government quickly fired back with retaliatory tariffs on many U.S. exports to Mexico, which has resulted in political pressure from states hurt by the taxes and an ongoing, but not acted upon, promise by the president to find a solution to the cross-border trucking stalemate.
The decade saw changes in many areas of technology, with equipment becoming more secure, safe and efficient. Many truck makers have launched more aerodynamic offerings as the driver mindset shifts toward fuel efficiency — a tradition that should continue with the government’s recent fuel standard proposal for trucks in the decade we are now entering.
This past 10 years also could have be referred to as the Decade of the Acronym, as terms like GPS, HOS, APU, EGR, SCR, DEF and EOBRs have quickly become mainstays in the trucker’s lexicon. Most recently, CSA has found its rightful place in truckers’ lingo as Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 becomes the new compliance tool for industry.
All of these elements have made it necessary for drivers to adapt more quickly to a faster-paced, fluid environment.
Many people probably would like to forget it, with its economic problems, unpopular wars, controversial reforms in health care, trillion-dollar stimulus spending bills, high unemployment rates, housing market woes and a host of other issues.
It’s certain we shouldn’t dwell on the past — as Randall-Reilly CEO Mike Reilly is fond of telling employees around here, “worrying about something that happened in the past is like watering last year’s crops.” But we can learn from the mistakes and use past adversities as the building blocks to a better tomorrow. Surviving the last 10 years of upheaval has prepared it for the challenge. What we’d like to see for America’s truckers is an era of stability. You all deserve that for a change.