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ATA Chairman Barry Pottle Calls For New Fuel Taxes, Intensified Lobbying Efforts

FreightWaves

American Trucking Associations (ATA) chairman Barry Pottle called for the trucking industry to coordinate its lobbying efforts at the McLeod User Conference at the Gaylord Rockies in Aurora, Colorado, on Tuesday, August 27. 

Pottle, a second-generation trucking company owner who runs Pottle's Transportation in Bangor, Maine, is finishing his term as the ATA's chairman and reported on the progress the association has made in the past year to McLeod customers, employees and vendors. Years prior to his stint as ATA chairman, Pottle served as the chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA). 

Pottle is widely known for bringing Wreaths Across America to the ATA. Wreaths Across America coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies every December at the graves of veterans in 1,600 cemeteries across the United States and overseas. The ATA contributes to the cause honoring American servicemen and women by donating trucks to move the wreaths. About 15 years ago, Pottle said, he drove a truck himself from Harrington, Maine, to Arlington National Cemetery, making 42 stops along the way.

The ATA's partnership with Wreaths Across America has expanded to more than 600 participating trucking carriers that carried more than 1.8 million wreaths. Pottle said that "believing in something, and having my fellow truckers support it as well" was one of the highlights of his career in the transportation industry.

Pottle said that the ATA needs to continue improving the trucking industry's image in the public sphere by highlighting the importance of the services provided by carriers, the difficulty of the work, and the tenacity of drivers who help companies across the country keep their promises and keep the country rolling. 

"Day in and day out, we make that delivery," Pottle said.

ATA chairman Barry Pottle. Photo: FreightWaves

What followed was a review of the ATA's wins in Washington, D.C., and its current legislative and regulatory priorities.

After successfully pushing through regulations relating to highway safety such as the electronic logging device mandate, the drug and alcohol clearinghouse, and the use of hair testing in lieu of urinalysis for drug testing, the ATA is renewing its focus on infrastructure funding.

The infrastructure problem is simple, but solving it is complex. The problem is that America's transportation infrastructure – including highways, bridges, seaports and airports – has been underfunded below the levels required for maintenance for decades. That has caused a pronounced degradation in the quality of infrastructure, which presents public safety and capacity issues. 

The highway system is not even being maintained, and in most cases capacity is not being added where it is needed. The demographic shift back to cities has not been accompanied by a concomitant investment in transportation infrastructure, leading to gridlock in important markets like Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City.

There are options on the table to fund large-scale infrastructure projects; it's just that the ATA doesn't like them. At the federal level, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have proposed plans involving public-private partnerships and widespread tolling; in essence, the privatization of infrastructure funded by usage fees. But that plan is not expected to gain the support of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

States like Connecticut and Rhode Island are advancing their own infrastructure projects through tolling proposals; in Rhode Island's case, highway improvements would be paid for by tolls that specifically target commercial vehicles. The ATA has made it a special priority to defeat those initiatives because the organization views the advent of truck-only tolls as a particularly threatening development.

According to Pottle, it is the ATA's position that an increase in the federal fuel tax is the best way to fund an ambitious infrastructure plan because it is capable of raising enough money and it has the best chance of passing in a divided Congress. The ATA's most vocal champions in Congress tend to be Republicans, and it is working to get them on board with a tax hike. 

Pottle pointed out that toll booths are an economically inefficient way of generating government revenue because administrative and collection costs consume up to 33.5 percent of the revenues generated, while administrative costs only hit about 1 percent of fuel tax revenues.

The ATA has also informed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration of the negative effects – both on safety and productivity – of California's meal and rest break rules, and believes that further progress will be made on that issue. 

Throughout his presentation, Pottle reiterated his call for trucking carriers to engage elected officials and to join the ATA, which has a powerful lobbying arm staffed by more than 120 employees in the Washington, D.C. area.

Busy trucking executives often feel like they don't have the time to engage in complicated, lengthy dialogues with legislators and regulators in Washington.

"As business owners in the industry, we need to take the time to time to do it," Pottle said. "That's why I'm passionate about the ATA and TCA."

Image Sourced from Pixabay

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