Oh, man, it’s column time again.
You know what? I’m going to have to be straight with you. There isn’t a darned thing I feel like talking about this time around. This is one of those “slow news” periods you hear about, and there really isn’t a whole lot going on in the trucking universe these days, at least nothing to write a column about. Things almost always slow down around the holidays. And now the midterm election is over and done with. In the weeks leading up to it everyone was playing the “What could it mean? What could it mean?” game. Then for a few weeks everyone played the “What will it mean? What will it mean?” game, which all adds up to a whole lot of nothing.
Speaking of which, the other day we had a meeting – boy, I’ll tell you what, that is one thing I envy you drivers for, you don’t have to sit in on staff meetings. Especially teleconferences, those are the worst. Half the time what they are talking about has nothing to do with you, and so you just have to sit there – it’s excruciating. The only good thing with teleconferences is, unlike traditional conferences around a table, you don’t have to even look like you’re paying attention.
I swear, there are times you can get up after an hour thinking, “Wait, did we decide on anything, about anything, aside from when the next meeting will be?”
But this wasn’t a teleconference. This meeting had a purpose. We were trying to figure out our editorial game plan for the near future. For inspiration, we looked at the just-released annual ATRI report on top industry concerns to see what we could tackle that we hadn’t covered lately.
We went down the list of carrier concerns, then the list of driver concerns.
Whaddaya know? We’ve done them all. Some of them repeatedly,
If anything, going over the list only emphasized how many issues there are in trucking that never seem to go away. Week after week, month after month, year after year, sometimes for decades, they are talked about and talked about. Studies are done. Programs and legislation are proposed. Then someone objects to the proposal and alternate programs and legislation are proposed. Then it stalls out, so someone decides to do another study.
These issues may evolve, but they’re never resolved, and we get stuck covering them, every misstep and false step and backtracking step of the way.
For instance, with the election over, everyone’s back to talking about infrastructure. I was hearing about “our crumbling infrastructure” long before I ever thought about writing about trucking, for at least 30 years. Elected officials come and go, and everyone everywhere agrees something needs to be done about it. They’re saying this might finally be the time we get something done.
Uh, huh, I’ve been hearing that for 30 years, too. Tell you what, when you figure something out and the steam shovels start rolling, give me a call.
And I’ve had enough of the autonomous vehicle stories, too. Talking about self-driving vehicles at this point is like talking about a manned mission to Mars. Folks are working on it, great. And they want to make a lot of noise about how they’re working on it. Of course, they do, and that’s largely because they know it will take a long time to convince the public it’s a good idea.
But I don’t think they’re nearly as close as some of the hype would lead us to believe. I’ll go on record saying it’s about 50-50 humans will at least orbit Mars before fully automated vehicles go mainstream.
The lack of truck parking is another issue that makes the ATRI list every year, at least among drivers. For some reason trucking executives never rate it as high, go figure. We keep hearing it’s bad, we keep hearing it’s getting worse. We keep hearing something must be done about it.
So, what’s keeping something from being done about it? The solution is simple. If you need more parking, build more parking. The question is, who’s going to foot the bill?
At the risk of rendering much of trucking journalism moot, that’s why many of these issues have the lifespan of a giant tortoise and move about as quickly – money, plain and simple.
Which brings us to the perpetual driver shortage. Carriers have gotten scared enough that they’ve dynamited their wallets open and started giving raises, to which drivers have responded by saying there’s more to life than money, to which has followed a wave of public soul-searching about trucking culture.
And now it’s popular to beat the drum about opening interstate trucking to 18-year-olds and rolling out the red carpet for veterans. There are some proposals out there, some pilot programs, but of course, it’s going to take a couple years of studies and data crunching to determine how much good these moves will do to relieve trucking’s labor shortage.
More talk, still not much in the way of results, and it gets boring to write about.
Another bold prediction: It’ll help a little, but not that much and not nearly enough.
What would be interesting would be to get a cross-section of industry analysts and try to break down exactly why trucking seems to be perpetually stuck with some of these problems.
Wait a minute – that’s it! That’s what we decided to do at the last meeting! OK, now that could be a cool topic for conversation. Now we’re getting somewhere.