Ships, trains, and planes are important instruments vital to the way Florida’s freight moves. But trucks are vital to the success of each of those other modes. Over the last several years Florida has invested almost a billion dollars in seaport improvements. Railroads handle millions of tons of Florida freight annually. Florida’s airports aren’t just the crossroads of the entire region for passengers, but are the same for freight. Yet all of those come to a screeching halt if trucks aren’t coming and going hundreds or thousands of times a day. Trucking is the glue that holds the system together.
Trucking is, therefore, absolu-tely essential. According to Florida Department of Transportation, this industry whose vehicles we take for granted carries 628 million tons of Florida freight a year-almost four times the rest of those other parts of the freight system combined.
More than 85% of all Florida communities are served only by trucks. Every store, station, restaurant, hotel, mall, hospital, school, or office gets what it needs by truck…which means every house, business, car, and person in the state is 100% dependent on trucks.
Trucking is human. This truth is at the root of the industry’s public image quandary. When people think about trucking, they think about trucks, not the professional man or woman who loads, drives, services, builds, buys, sells, dispatches, leases or fuels that vehicle…or is the spouse, child, or parent who waits for his or her loved one to come home from work.
Trucks are tools, just as any other tool we use in our daily lives. People are the power and purpose behind them. Companies in Florida employ 300,000 of those people. They are some of the warmest, friendliest, brightest, most down-to-earth, committed, patriotic people you will ever meet. They know they are the backbone of the economy, but they don’t brag about it. They also don’t worry too much that the general public under-appreciates them. They just go to work every day, handle the freight that Floridians need, and then go home to their families.
Trucking is not well understood. The oddest statement we frequently hear from the general public is that “there are too many trucks on the road.” The implication is that trucks generate their own demand. That’s patently upside-down. 100% of the demand is produced by people and companies that need the items they have asked trucks to deliver to or for them. If society would suddenly decide it didn’t want medicine, food, furniture, fuel, equipment and everything else, then there would be “fewer trucks on the road.” Not likely. Until then, there will be exactly as many trucks on the road as American, international, and Florida citizens and corporations need there to be.
Another common misperception is that trucks are major accident-causers. False. Roughly 93% of all traffic accidents in the U.S. don’t involve a large truck at all. And of the ones that do, crash reports indicate that two-thirds of the time the truck is not at fault. Doing the math, 98% of all vehicle accidents are not truck-caused.
Those statistics underline another disconnect: the public’s failure to consider the amount of safety training undertaken by commercial vehicle operators and the level of maintenance which trucking companies provide in their shops. If cars and their drivers paid as much attention to safety improvement and service as our industry does, roads would be immeasurably safer.
The same is true of technology. People significantly underestimate the level of electronic and mechanical advancement built in to these vehicles. They are 21st-century marvels, and as a mechanic or driver, enormous skill and technical acumen are required to operate and maintain one of these vehicles.
Trucking is innovative. Beyond just the technology in the vehicles, the business of trucking is as up to date as any other commercial sector in the state. Low-margin, high-competition businesses must innovate to survive. Florida trucking is on the front lines. The degree of inventiveness the whole transportation sector, not just trucking, has displayed is striking. Warehousing, routing, backhaul, leasing, brokering, and training techniques have improved dramatically. Florida in particular, as a gateway for international trade, has blossomed. If you are a Florida-based trucking company, you had better stay up to “innovation speed” or you will get left behind.
One illustration is the rapid adoption of natural gas as a fuel. Of the 50,000-60,000 natural gas trucks in the U.S., a disproportionate share are based in Florida, with Saddle Creek Transportation, Raven Transport, Ryder, and Florida Power and Light being early adopters. The state of Florida also offers a rebate program to encourage the purchase of these more efficient, environmentally friendly, high-tech vehicles.
Trucking is multifaceted. Imagine the variety of cargo that trucks carry. Pallets, bulk liquids, heavy equipment, hazardous materials, food, mail and packages, building supplies, household moves, automobiles, and a hundred other types. They even carry the materials that the roads themselves are constructed of. Each load requires a different configuration of tractor or trailer: step vans, tankers, refrigerated vans, flatbeds, special rigs, twins, auto carriers, intermodal containers, dump, log, garbage, cement, and more.
Different types of trucks and cargo are only a part of the complexity of trucking. Companies are long-haul, local, regional, or a mixture. Their equipment is leased, owned, provided by independent contractors, or a mixture. They are owner-operators of a single truck or run 10,000 of them. They might need special permits for hazardous materials, size of load, or travel route. They might or might not touch a railyard, ocean terminal, or airport. They might also be involved in warehousing, brokering, or other elements of logistics. As you can see, trucking is not simply trucking.
Trucking faces obstacles. Foremost among these is the employee shortage-particularly of qualified drivers and technicians. Trucking companies are not alone in facing this dangerous problem. The entire transportation sector is experiencing retirements and departures at a much higher rate than new employees entering the field.
Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity cites the need for 21,000 truck drivers by 2022. Multiply that by the gap for diesel technicians, warehouse workers, dispatchers, and others. The ability of the trucking community to serve its customers is at risk. A bit later in this article, we will consider ways the industry is addressing the shortage.
Another major obstacle is the current regulatory environment. Regulation is a tale of the best of times and the worst of times. Florida has a great story to tell in terms of its relative friendliness to business. The primary Florida agencies for trucking oversight-its Department of Transportation, Highway Patrol, and Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles-maintain very strong and positive relationships with our industry. They bend over backward to collaborate and work toward common safety and efficiency goals.
The mood in Washington is different. The increased federal appetite for regulation has hit trucking hard…with little recognition of trucking’s strong commitment to safety, its centrality to the U.S. economy, and the complexity of its work. Rulemaking, more than actual legislation, has tied the hands of companies, decreased efficiency, and increased operating costs. Florida companies are fortunate to not have to fight the same battles at home as we do in Washington.
A third obstacle is that trucking goes as the economy goes. When times are tough for the rest of us, times are brutal for trucking. The great recession caused tens of thousands of trucking companies to go out of business and was a catastrophe for this huge commercial sector which supplies goods and services to the industry. Truckers and farmers have a lot in common. Both are affected by big things they can’t control-the economy and the weather; but both are resilient and know that, if they don’t do what they do, America can’t survive.
What is the impact of those seven simple truths? The trucking industry has a proud tradition of mutual support. It sticks together. In Florida, sticking together happens at the Florida Trucking Association (FTA). Since 1934 the center for advocacy, professional development, and safety education has been FTA.
One important role of FTA is to maintain relationships and be a strong voice with Florida’s government in Tallahassee. Legislation, regulation, and law enforcement affect and are affected by the trucking industry. Considering how diverse (and busy) those trucking companies are, they realize that they need an association speaking and listening for them.
The most tangible role of FTA, though, is to help the industry get better. More than a dozen times a year the association offers training sessions…primarily on safety practices, but also on every other topic one can imagine a company needing: operations, technology, human resources, finance and insurance, economic trends, innovation, and more. Every business sector improves itself by facilitating interaction with cutting-edge experts and with everyday practitioners. FTA effectively plays that role for Florida’s trucking industry.
More than ongoing training is needed though. How do companies one by one or collectively deal with the obstacles mentioned in the seventh truth? Among their many strategies, they turn to FTA. In the last six months, for example, special initiatives on cargo theft, public image, safety improvement, member benefits, veterans outreach, and the employment shortage have been rolled out.
The last of those is especially significant. FTA is partnering with Florida state agencies, training institutes, veterans groups, Monster.com and Military.com to tell the story of trucking in such a way that we can attract more individuals into the industry or to Florida. The belief is that, if people learn the tremendous value of trucking and the opportunities that exist, we will open their eyes.
Trucking is vital to Florida’s future…for our own citizens and because of the huge role Florida plays in international trade. For that reason, it is important that people come to understand these seven simple truths about trucking. The need isn’t just so the trucking industry can succeed, but because we are a perfect example of how a rising tide-of understanding, support, and appreciation-truly lifts all boats, and trains, and planes, and trucks…and every person in the state of Florida.
Company Name: Florida Trucking Association
Location: 350 East College Ave. Tallahassee, FL 32301-1565
Phone: (850) 222-9900
Fax: (850) 222-9363
On the Web at: www.fltrucking.org