A voice for the industry with Dave Williams

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A voice for the industry with Dave Williams

As Dave Williams enters his second quarter as chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), he’s continuing the organization’s focus on providing valuable resources for its members, from enhanced educational offerings to amplifying the “voice of truckload” on Capitol Hill. This year’s Safety & Security meeting is one for the record books and the Refrigerated meeting is just around the corner; Williams says both events have been redesigned to better help carriers catch up on regulations and trends. Looking forward, TCA members are encouraged to participate in September’s Call on Washington and place issues vital to trucking directly on the desks of their legislators. There are many topics of note, from the feasibility (or non-feasibility) of the Environmental Protection Agency’s zero-emissions deadlines for big rigs to AB5-type attacks on trucking’s independent contractor model, a shortage of truck parking, the prevalence of lawsuit abuse and nuclear verdicts, and more. Read on to discover Williams’ thoughts on the state of trucking in general, plans for the future of TCA, and ideas for meeting the industry’s day-to-day challenges.

Congratulations on completing your first quarter as chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA). What goals do you have for TCA in the next two to three months?

We have some really good things going on right now. We are working toward getting the entire organization hyper-focused around creating value for TCA members. We are focused on developing ways to improve the driving job, to improve roadway safety, to improve motor carrier financial sustainability, to shape the industry’s environmental stewardship efforts, and to improve the industry’s image.

We are also developing several new value opportunities. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be meeting with two new subject-based benchmarking groups to see how we can help member fleets improve in equipment maintenance and safety management. Many fleets have expressed a high degree of interest in getting their safety and maintenance personnel more connected so that they can learn from the experiences of others. More to come!

In June, TCA hosted the 2023 Safety & Security Division Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, and the 2023 Refrigerated Meeting is scheduled for July. How do events like these benefit TCA members?

The Safety & Security and Refrigerated Meetings have both recently experienced significant makeovers, so if you haven’t gone in a while, I would encourage you to attend. As part of our focus on value, the leadership teams from both of these groups have been challenged to continue raising the bar in presenting the highest quality educational content. These meetings provide an excellent opportunity to get educated on the latest regulations, to catch up on the latest trends, to share best practices, and to really get a chance to interact with some of the best subject matter experts and suppliers in the industry. You won’t want to miss out.

September is just around the corner. In addition to the association’s Fall Business meetings, members are encouraged to take part in the annual Call on Washington, D.C. What issues do you see at the top of the agenda?

The beauty of TCA’s Call on Washington is that TCA members can discuss the issues that are top of THEIR agenda. There is no script. These meetings provide a chance for TCA members to get in front of policymakers and help members of Congress understand what keeps them up at night. If you’re not comfortable sharing a concern specific to your own business, there are plenty of general industry topics to talk about — truck parking, abolishing the Federal Excise Tax, the realities of zero-emissions tractors, lawsuit abuse, nuclear verdicts, predatory towing, the attack on the independent contractor model … the list goes on and on. There are some really important issues that impact our businesses every day. Most members of Congress don’t fully understand how important these issues are. The Call on Washington is one of the best opportunities to step up and inform them.

In the May/June 2023 edition of Truckload Authority, you mentioned that it’s vital that the trucking industry look beyond “next week” and “next year,” and focus on more long-term goals for the next few years and even decades. Please share some of your long-term industry goals.

The truckload industry is often its own worst enemy. Short-term thinking has historically led us into deep and vicious economic cycles. The “make hay while we can, before we run off a cliff” mentality is dangerous for a business that is trying to build a reasonable balance sheet. One of my long-term goals is to get stakeholders in this industry to think differently about their businesses.

A great step in that direction is to get business leaders to understand truckload cycles. What causes truckload cycles? Can the industry mitigate the magnitude or duration of a cycle? Can a business predict the beginning or the end of a cycle? Should a business act differently if it knows a cycle is beginning or ending? Should a fleet have a portion of their tractors paid off to more effectively adapt to a down cycle?

The answer to each of these questions within reason is yes. It takes a lot of work. But knowing more about what makes the tide rise and fall is very powerful and enabling for a business. I liken this to the role of a quarterback: If the quarterback is only looking downfield, then the quarterback is likely to get pummeled. If the quarterback is only trying to avoid getting sacked and never looks downfield, then we never make progress. We need to be good at both.

One ongoing debate involves requiring speed limiters on big rigs; however, the top allowable speed has yet to be determined. Both TCA and the American Trucking Associations have spoken out in favor of such legislation. How do you believe speed limiters will help the industry? Please share any thoughts on how a speed cap should be determined, and by whom.

First of all, let’s be transparent and recognize that this issue does not enjoy unanimous support across our industry. We can disagree and still be friends. To me, this is about the long game. In the long game, our industry has to be safer. We can proactively take steps to get safer, or we can wait until the government tells us what we have to do. In this case, much of the industry has already voluntarily moved to reasonable governed speeds, which is a form of speed limiter. Some will argue that highway speed differentials are a problem, and I would agree that there are some legitimate concerns, but we have that issue today with the fleets that have governed speeds. There are trade-offs in everything we do.

In my opinion, the laws of physics rule the day here. When you operate an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer combination, additional speed equates to additional risk — substantial risk. With nuclear verdicts looming as a threat to shut down a business after just one accident, we have to control what we can control. We can’t control the behavior of four-wheelers, but we CAN control what we do and how fast we drive. If a fleet feels like it needs to run fast in order to hire drivers, or to meet customer demands, or to meet productivity goals, then I would say that the odds are not in favor of that fleet surviving in the long run.

I would estimate that the majority of TCA member fleets operate at or under the 65 to 70 mph speed range that has been discussed as part of the proposed rule. These fleets are not only likely to be safer, but they will also experience the benefits of better fuel economy, as well as improved ESG metrics.

Another hot topic is the Environmental Protection Agency’s push for zero-emissions vehicles in all sectors. Aside from charging facilities and range being issues for heavy-duty trucks, what other challenges do these requirements mean for motor carriers?

As I have stated before, we want to do our part as responsible environmental stewards. We have a responsibility to be part of the solution. The problem is that many of the policymakers are not addressing industry concerns.

Electric tractors likely have a future in our industry but are currently facing real-world issues, including significant range limitations, excessive vehicle weights, very high acquisition costs, higher-than-expected operating costs, excessively long lead times for charging equipment, and an underpowered electrical grid. Each of these issues will see improvement over the course of time, but policymakers have decided to force an accelerated timeline that doesn’t allow for the maturing of the technology.

It’s become a matter of partisan politics, which is now producing unbalanced — even unreasonable — demands on our fleets.

Hydrogen-powered solutions also hold promise but are likewise seeing significant early development challenges. I don’t want to be dramatic, but the current path is leading us towards a financial and operational wreck.

We need policymakers to retool the rules to fit technologies that actually work today and allow future technologies to naturally mature. As for the myriad of recent California rules, that is a can of worms that we don’t have space to cover right now. Compliance with a rule should be achievable, it should apply to all equally, and it should be easy to understand. I believe they missed badly on this one.

One of the stories in this edition of Truckload Authority (click here to read) touches on ways carriers can attract — and retain — safe, reliable drivers. While many offer sign-on bonuses or guaranteed weekly pay or home time to pull in new hires, how can carriers work to reduce driver turnover?

After 31 years in this industry, I can safely say that I still have a lot to learn. Driver hiring and retention is one area that few have mastered, and a place where we all still have a lot to learn. I have seen a significant number of strategies to attract and retain drivers deployed in one way or another. Some strategies come across as very gimmicky, while others are more innovative.

In the end, this is a “people business,” and each fleet needs to find a way to provide meaningful personal connections with their drivers … easier said than done. This involves creating a culture that goes beyond words. Surprisingly to some, I believe that it involves setting high expectations and holding people accountable to those expectations. It involves providing well-maintained equipment, favorable working conditions, consistent work opportunities, good benefits, and competitive pay. It involves building relationships and having healthy lines of communication to work through issues. It’s a balance of all of these efforts.

No fleet does all of these things perfectly, but if, as an industry, we can focus on making progress related to each of these efforts, then we have a shot at making the driving job more attractive than other options that high-quality workers may have. I wish there was a silver bullet, but it is a lot of hard work.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has selected five topics on which to focus in 2023, including expanding truck parking at public rest areas, identifying barriers to entry for female truck drivers, complete streets impact on freight mobility, the diesel technician shortage, and the cost of driver detention. Of these five, which two do you see as the most critical to the trucking industry, and why?

I wish it was as simple as picking two priorities and saying that these priorities will bring the greatest amount of benefit to the industry. Just like a truck’s engine, every component performs a critical function. If any component fails, then the entire engine can be compromised. As an industry and as an association, we have to be prepared to make meaningful progress across several fronts. If I were to pick critical areas, my list would certainly complement the areas you have mentioned — but might look a little different. In fact, these may sound familiar! I would pick:

  1. Improve the driving job and make it a more attractive job for all high-quality workers.
  2. Improve roadway safety through technology and by adopting effective best practices focused on reducing accidents.
  3. Improve motor carrier financial sustainability by educating carriers on proper returns on investment and by advocating for favorable tax policies and regulations.
  4. Shape the industry’s environmental stewardship by educating policymakers on the huge progress we have already made and then implementing reasonable real-world solutions going forward.
  5. Improve the industry’s image by highlighting the many things that the truckload industry does to support communities and keep America’s supply chain strong.

I know this is a bit of a repeat from what I said earlier, but these are the things I would see as most critical. Within each of these five broader areas, there are a number of more specific challenges captured in the ATRI report that need to be addressed — including truck parking, barriers for female drivers, diesel technician shortages, and driver detention, just to name a few.

Finally, what thoughts would you like to share with TCA members about the issues facing the trucking industry?

The truckload industry is full of great people — smart people, who want to make a difference. We need more of this industry’s leaders to engage on these issues to help shape what this industry looks like for the next generation. There is no questioning the essentiality and critical nature of what we do for the economy. We just need to find more effective ways to move the needle.

Thank you for your time, Mr. Chairman — and have a wonderful summer.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 edition of Truckload Authority, the official publication of the Truckload Carriers Association.

linda gardner bunch

Linda Garner-Bunch has been in publishing for more than 30 years. You name it, Linda has written about it. She has served as an editor for a group of national do-it-yourself publications and has coordinated the real estate section of Arkansas’ only statewide newspaper, in addition to working on a variety of niche publications ranging from bridal magazines to high-school sports previews and everything in between. She is also an experienced photographer and copy editor who enjoys telling the stories of the “Knights of the Highway,” as she calls our nation’s truck drivers.

Avatar for Linda Garner-Bunch
Linda Garner-Bunch has been in publishing for more than 30 years. You name it, Linda has written about it. She has served as an editor for a group of national do-it-yourself publications and has coordinated the real estate section of Arkansas’ only statewide newspaper, in addition to working on a variety of niche publications ranging from bridal magazines to high-school sports previews and everything in between. She is also an experienced photographer and copy editor who enjoys telling the stories of the “Knights of the Highway,” as she calls our nation’s truck drivers.
For over 30 years, the objective of The Trucker editorial team has been to produce content focused on truck drivers that is relevant, objective and engaging. After reading this article, feel free to leave a comment about this article or the topics covered in this article for the author or the other readers to enjoy. Let them know what you think! We always enjoy hearing from our readers.