Atlanta. More than 4,500 attendees, a sold-out exhibit hall with 400 vendors, and the usual full slate of technical presentations and task force discussions proved the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) 2018 annual meeting’s move to Atlanta this year a success.
“For more than six decades, TMC has worked to raise professional and technical standards for the trucking industry,” said TMC General Chairman Glen McDonald, director of maintenance at Ozark Motor Lines Inc. “This annual meeting is an important part of that – not just to see what is available in the field on the exhibit hall floor – but to have the opportunity to discuss and learn about the latest advances in truck technology in our myriad of task forces and educational sessions.”
But despite a booming freight market, trucking faces some challenges ahead.
Sounding several familiar themes during a speech, Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) – of which TMC is a subsidiary – noted that while the U.S. economy is doing well, it’s strength is “revealing a lot of our weaknesses” within the industry, particularly when it comes to the truck driver shortage.
“We are suffering from both a driver and a technician shortage,” Spear said. “Over the next decade, we will need 960,000 new employees in our industry – including drivers, technicians, dispatchers and others. This is not a small undertaking. We need to find ways to attract younger talent to our industry.”
He noted that the U.S. economy “is doing well,” which is pushing up freight rates. “The key ingredients are coming into place to create wonderful future for trucking,” Spear said. “And demand on trucking is only going to grow as we move to support a robust and growing economy.”
Yet a variety of policy issues are helping hold the industry back, particularly restrictions on allowing truck drivers under age 21 from operating commercial vehicles interstate.
Spear also took aim at the media for “over-hyping” autonomous vehicle technology, particularly as to how it may impact trucking’s ability to recruit new workers.
“Level 5 systems with no driver, no steering wheel, and no gas pedal are not coming tomorrow,” he said. “We need to be realistic; we want to encourage innovation, not blow it out of proportion. The truth is we’re going to need drivers; to operate vehicles in our congested cities, to pick up and deliver goods to the customer’s door.”
Spear also returned to issue of infrastructure funding, which he believes will become only more critical to trucking in the near future. “If we don’t take our seat at the table in this discussion, our roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate at a furious pace,” he said. “Good infrastructure is good policy. But we are woefully behind the curve.”