What will the world of trucking be like after Jan. 1? The answer most often heard is that no one really knows for sure.
Even as traffic managers eagerly sign up for seminars and courses that promise to teach them about all the changes coming after intrastate deregulation, they admit they have no idea what will transpire after the New Year. But they all agree it will come down on the positive side for them."I really don't think anyone has an idea what's going to happen," said Daniel D. Renz, senior pricing analyst with Rexnord Corp., a Milwaukee maker of power-transmission components.
"Some carriers haven't decided yet on what changes they'll make on Jan. 1. Others have said they'll start handling interstate traffic. I think it's going to be a real mixed bag," said Bill Huie, director of corporate transportation at NCH Corp. in Irving, Texas.
New Year's Day marks the end of an era, as 41 states lose their authority to call the pricing and routing shots on truck freight that moves within their borders.
"They'll just stop doing a lot of things they've been doing," Mr. Huie said. "When Florida suddenly deregulated in 1980, nothing was cratered there, and we don't expect any this time."
But some on the carrier side are clearly concerned.
"Last year, I got fined $500 for hauling someplace I wasn't supposed to. Now, they're going to let everyone do what I've busted my butt to do for 30 to 40 years," said Mike Duckwall, president at Hillsboro Transportation Co. in Hillsboro, Ohio, which operates intrastate and interstate only in Ohio.
In Ohio, there are only about 10 intrastate less-than-truckload carriers left, Mr. Duckwall said. And they're going to face competition from Roadway Express Inc., Con-Way Central Express Inc. and other large LTL haulers.
"The bottom line is someone is going to lose their job. But I'll stay in business one way or the other," said Mr. Duckwall.
And he's not the only intrastate hauler worried.
The California Trucking Association, the largest of the state federations comprising the American Trucking Associations, has been warning its members holding intrastate authority in that state they can no longer rely on the California Public Utilities Commission to protect their market share. They now have to price their service according to its true costs, the PUC said.
The commission should know. It was the catalyst behind intrastate deregulation.
Federal Express Corp. sued the PUC in 1990 over rules the integrated carrier said restricted the operations of its trucks in the state. A federal court agreed, provoking a loud protest from United Parcel Service, which competes with archrival Fedex but wasn't covered by the court's order.
UPS then sought legislation in Congress that would deregulate its trucks as well, keeping it on a par with FedEx.
It wasn't long before UPS' other competitors, the national motor carriers, demanded the equal treatment. In turn, more truckers began complaining each time larger competitors were granted regulatory relief and they weren't.
The fact that intrastate deregulation is about to become a reality has some trucking executives dancing on the loading docks.
Overnite Transportation Co., the largest motor carrier in Virginia, will be free to haul freight between Richmond and Alexandria, the largest consumer market in the state, company sources said. In the past, Overnite had to truck Alexandria-bound goods to Maryland and then return them to Virginia.
FedEx believes it will save 50 million gallons of aviation fuel a year under deregulation, because it will be free to deliver some shipments directly by truck instead of flying them to distant hubs and then back to the destination state.
And Ryder System Inc. will have a chance to give customers in Texas the service they want. A Ryder request to move prefabricated buildings using special trucks was once denied by the Texas Railroad Commission. The TRC ruled that only a certain trucker holding Texas intrastate authority could haul the material, even though it didn't have the specialized trucks.
Overall, deregulation's proponents believe it will allow new entrants into the trucking industry, lowering bills and improving service. But critics claim unfettered competition will result in a rash of trucking bankruptcies.
Legislation signed into law by President Clinton on Aug. 26 and scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 1995, would:
* Allow any motor carrier to operate anywhere within state borders.
* Eliminate the authority now held by 41 states to dictate what routes, if any, truckers can use to carry freight.
* Allow any motor carrier to set rates based on the trucker's perception of what will sell.
* Eliminate the state's ability to dictate rates.
* Allow states to continue regulation of safety and insurance programs, including carrier inspections and requirements that companies supply safety and insurance records to state officials. (Source: Trucking Industry Regulatory Reform Act; Joe Yeninas / Journal of Commerce)