Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sorting reality from pie-in-the-sky

Last week, HQ was buzzing like a beehive. From Oct. 1-4 the OOIDA Board of Directors convened, and it was nonstop meetings. I’ve always been a fly on the wall at these affairs, covering the whole enchilada for Land Line Magazine.

Last year, I was elected to serve as an alternate to our employee board member, so now I’m at the table. It’s a different perspective. I’ve been here for 21 years and I know how OOIDA works their plan. The part I really relish is watching the leadership of an organization of 160,000 members plan its work.

For instance, I am always fascinated with how the Association’s government affairs strategies are typically developed. The line of attack is a lot more than just blowing smoke, and it takes some sharp minds and experienced leaders with BS meters turned on high to turn talk into walk.

During the week – and way before – OOIDA’s DC crew gathers info and meets with insiders on The Hill to measure interest, viability. They wear out many pairs of shoes.

During the Board meetings, they meet with members of the Government Affairs Committee, and working subgroups are formed. After much discussion, reporting, refining and analysis, strategies are presented to the full board.

On Oct. 4, the working subgroups of the Government Affairs Committee presented concept plans that would be approved or disapproved by the board.

One of those was OOIDA’s “green” initiative, and I am going to use it as an example.

First, let me interject that I am amazed at the bad ideas that get pushed around in this industry in the name of safety and profit. I hear and read about them daily and am even more amazed that uninformed lawmakers and inept policymakers fall for it. OK, back to the green initiative.

In my opinion, OOIDA’s plan is nothing but impressive compared to the green initiatives of other industry stakeholders, such as ATA and the railroad association.

Board Member Howard Hart, Spokane, WA, chaired the green work group and presented its proposal for a “green” initiative for a cleaner, safer, more efficient trucking environment. The challenge is meeting EPA emission mandates for cleaner air. You do that by running better routes that use less fuel and idling less to conserve fuel and getting in and out of loading docks quickly, all saving millions of gallons of fuel.

“The railroad association has its plan for the future, and that’s to move freight from truck to rail. The cost, of course, to ramp up the rails is going to be huge,” said Howard. “ATA wants bigger, heavier trucks, which will put additional wear and tear on our roads and bridges and require substantial investment.”

The OOIDA plan will target operational efficiency, pushing for “greener” docks by streamlining logistics/shipping practices. Right now, it’s in the draft mode, but the Association plans to call it our “Always Green” initiative. There’s a lot more detail to this, of course, and strategies on how to accomplish results. I won’t get into that here, but I will share some more of the behind-closed-doors dialogue from the meeting.

“Our current system capacity is way underutilized,” said Howard. “Truckers work 24/7. But the places where we pick up and deliver have never worked on that schedule, so the industry is totally out of step. To make trucking a cleaner, more efficient, more profitable place, that boondoggle has to get better. It is our position to push for those changes.”

“These are significant strategies because they are achievable right now, not 10 years down the road. America needs fixes that can be realized as soon as possible,” said Board Member John Taylor. “Unlike solutions from other industry stakeholders, ours are realistic and affordable.”

The board voted to approve the initiative. So what’s next?

Now the DC crew will work on packaging the plan. You’ll be reading about it in Land Line and OOIDA will be sharing it with appropriate groups and lawmakers. Hopefully, truckers will be seeing a push for efficiency that will see expanded shipper hours at the docks and an atmosphere that will get trucks in and get them out. In our new economically challenged world, it’s the right plan at the right time.

FYI: The plans also includes fuel efficiency initiatives such as encouraging states to implement the EPA Model Idle Law, make the best use of the EPA grant for purchasing APUs, continue OOIDA’s APU loan program, support the purchase of aerodynamic equipment and more.