What will be outgoing FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro’s lasting legacy?

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Outgoing FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, among drivers at the 2013 Mid-America Trucking Show.Outgoing FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, among drivers at the 2013 Mid-America Trucking Show.

Improving driver compensation certainly ranks at or near the top of outgoing Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration head Anne Ferro‘s main hopes for the future of the industry, and she spoke often about the subject in a one-hour question-and-answer session with a gaggle of transportation press Thursday, Aug. 14. 

Her last day at the agency is next Friday (Aug. 24), and she said during the press visit that the agency will announce an interim plan before her departure. 

Ferro’s tenure at the top of the FMCSA is often characterized as one of a decided expansion of federal reach into trucking businesses, particularly with the agency’s implementation of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Safety Measurement System, which Ferro described as “a game changer.” CSA, she added, “has put safety in the board room” and has “put the safety manager at the table” at many carriers with the highest company officials. 

But while plans for CSA’s implementation — and the agency’s changes to the hours of service rule, among other high-profile regulatory efforts — precede her tenure with FMCSA, she takes hold of the current administration’s driver compensation reform effort as her own.

Asked an Overdrive reader’s question about what exactly changed following the administrator’s ridealong with owner-operator Leo Wilkins last year — and by extension her numerous personal interactions with the truck driving public over her nearly six years as administrator — she noted her ever-growing appreciation for the stresses drivers face on the road, including the challenge of disrespect from some shippers and receivers, in some cases employers. And this even as drivers often shoulder safety responsibility where the rubber meets the road entirely on their own.

Her efforts throughout her tenure, she suggested, have been aimed to “back that safety calculus into the supply chain and move the costs [associated with it] earlier into the supply chain.” 

The administration’s as yet far from successful proposal to require carriers pay at least a minimum hourly rate for detention time can be read in this context, as can the still-in-process anti-coercion rule, which gives the agency some ability to punish coercion to violate regulations by shippers, receivers and brokers.

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She places the CSA Safety Measurement System there, too, with its aim to boost back-office attention to matters of safety, likewise the ELD mandate. Agency critics are quick to note that most such efforts, among others, in the short term would (in the case of compensation reform and the ELD mandate) or do (CSA) show little benefit to drivers directly and only create additional administrative and cost burdens for carriers. The latter are felt most strongly by the smallest of those carriers and their drivers, often one and the same person. 

Following the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s call for her resignation in June, more than 9 in 10 Overdrive readers said they agreed with such a call. (In the Aug. 14 conference, she denied a link between OOIDA’s call for and the announcement of her resignation scarcely more than a month later — she will soon take the position of President and CEO of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which post’s availability she said drove her decision to step aside.) 

In Ferro’s view, essentially, what change follows from her engagement with drivers and owner-operators is a new term in the debate, a new focus in the trucking-safety conversation. With uncompensated detention now firmly a part of it, and not just in the pages of Overdrive and on driver message boards, the administrator was hopeful for the future of reform in the area. Among eventual markers of her success or failure as administrator, she urged watchers to look for a future not only in which, if she’s done her work right, there are fewer truck- and bus-involved crashes or lower crash rates but in which there is “vastly improved compensation for professional drivers and a demonstrated higher bar for safety for those working into the supply chain,” not just trucking companies and their drivers. 

As in the past, her willingness to use the bully pulpit to influence the safety conversation was on display, as she urged carriers from the single-truck owner-operator on up to the largest fleets to take advantage of the current supply and demand dynamic to shoot for “rate growth and driver compensation growth.” She’d applaud, she said, any trucking company that refused to do business with a shipper that wouldn’t agree to pay detention. 

And she added, “Shippers that are abusive should frankly be shut out.”

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