When the secretary of Transportation sits down with her senior staff, there is an empty chair for the representative of the nation's largest freight transportation mode. The chiefs of the railroad, maritime and aviation administrations are there, but motor carriers are not.
The time has come for the trucking industry to be represented in the Department of Transportation by a Motor Carrier Administration. For the trucking industry, the issue is one of plain and simple equity.Among all modes of freight transportation, the trucking industry is by far the largest and most pervasive. It carries the most freight, travels the most miles, employs the most people, and offers the most efficient transportation services.
Although they do not carry passengers, trucks are much more a direct part of people's lives than any other form of public transportation. Unlike rail, air or water, trucking is not limited to particular terminals and travel-ways that are separated from the public most of the time. It is a highly visible form of transportation, and it has a daily effect on the lives of virtually all Americans.
In spite of its size and complexity, the trucking industry has no policy- making "desk" in the federal government responsible for dealing with the many issues that affect motor carriers. Instead, a host of agencies deal piecemeal with trucking-related issues, and, as a result, these issues are usually dealt with on a reactive basis only.
A small step toward correcting this gap was taken last month, largely in response to the trucking industry's outcry. It includes a significant reorganization in the DOT to strengthen the newly created Office of the Associate Administrator for Motor Carriers, headed by Richard P. Landis. Four offices to deal with motor carrier standards, data collection, safety and long-range planning were established under Mr. Landis' supervision.
The action begins to centralize the federal government's approach toward trucking, but it does not address the equity issue for the motor carrier industry. Reporting to the Federal Highway Administration, the new DOT office has a mandate to protect the nation's highways, not the public's need for efficient freight transportation or the concerns of motor carriers.
As a result, Congress still does not have any federal body on which to rely for comprehensive motor carrier research, planning and programming. Without such a source, they cannot make well-founded and properly directed legislative and regulatory decisions. They can receive input from other modal administrators and from experts on the nation's highway system - but none from a source whose job is to monitor the trucking industry.
The American Trucking Association believes that it is in the interest of both motor carriers and the public to establish a coordinated motor carrier program within the DOT. An administration for motor carriers would have a mandate to develop overall transportation policy, foster technological development in transportation and develop improved transportation systems. In addition, it would work to improve transportation safety, protect and improve the environment and protect consumer interests.
The new office would not be a financial burden on the federal government. In August the General Accounting Office reported the annual cost to operate a Motor Carrier Administration would be $2.4 million, the equivalent of what DOT spends in one hour.
In both the 98th and 99th Congresses, ATA proposed that a Motor Carrier Administration should consist of six major units:
Office of the Administrator;
Office of Safety Programs;
Office of Technology Assessment;
Office of Policy and Planning;
Office of Program Management and Administration;
Office of the Chief Counsel.
During the recently concluded 99th Congress, legislation reflecting the spirit of ATA's proposal was introduced into the Senate by Ernest Hollings, D- S.C., and Paul Trible Jr., R-Va., and into the House (H.R. 3427) by John B. Breaux, D-La. Early in 1987, we expect similar bills once again to be put forward.
The establishment of a modal administration for motor carriers is one of the most important goals of the ATA, and more than 15 other major national groups have joined the ATA to support the idea. They include the Teamsters, National Safety Council, United Bus Owners of America, Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association and the National Farmers Union.