Features
Truckers in the News
You can fight city hall
All it takes is a little exercise - of your rights

By Coral Beach
Land Line staff

The feds allegedly deregulated trucking 25 years ago, but today’s owner-operators face more regs than ever – in their hometowns.

Burgs and ’burbs of all sizes and ilk are spinning their webs of ordinances and edicts faster than a black widow in heat: no idling here, no engine brakes there, no parking anywhere. 

The freedom of the open road doesn’t extend to truckers’ driveways, and drivers across the country are calling OOIDA headquarters every week with new horror stories of how the long arm of city hall is touching them.

Many times, the municipalities’ power grabs come at the request of truckers’ neighbors who lodge the age-old complaint of “not in my backyard.” What the townsfolk often mean is “not in my neighbor’s driveway” when the topic of truck parking comes up.

When discussing these issues with truckers, one comment is almost universal: “But you can’t fight city hall, right?” 

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it could be argued that no sentiment could be more unpatriotic. After all, wasn’t America founded with the mother of all fights against the mother of all city halls – the British crown?

Even though truckers are on the road and away from home the majority of the time, they can and should keep an eye on the home front to make sure that their elected officials at the local level understand their needs.

Just ask OOIDA Life Member Bill Pigue.

A false sense of security
For a decade, Pigue had been living in Raytown, MO, a suburban community of about 30,000 adjacent to Kansas City, MO. He was a trucker, mostly hauling food destined for grocery stores. He was a blue-collar guy in a blue-collar community.

He was proud of his ability to make a living as a trucker and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment of keeping up with the responsibilities of being an owner-operator. Among those responsibilities was living and 

working within self-imposed rules that he developed out of respect for his neighbors.

Although he could have driven his Freightliner home on many occasions, he often didn’t, opting instead to park the rig almost 20 miles away at a truck stop because he knew his schedule would require him to fire it up in the wee hours to make the next delivery on time.

He didn’t want to disturb his neighbors. 

On the occasions when he did drive the truck home, he dropped his trailer behind a local grocery store where he had made arrangements to have it secured. 

He didn’t want to bother his neighbors with the big reefer unit at his home.

Like so many owner-operators – not to mention owners of four-wheelers – Pigue often did his own maintenance and minor repairs when he had his red Freightliner in his driveway. But no matter what, he didn’t fire up the engine before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m. 

He didn’t want to disrupt the peace in his neighborhood.

The folks in the wood-frame houses around his never complained to Pigue about the presence of his truck on their cul de sac, and no city officials ever contacted him about it.

However, Raytown Public Works Director Beau Groceman, who is responsible for local code enforcement, said city hall was receiving calls from residents. They weren’t necessarily Pigue’s neighbors, but he wasn’t the only trucker living in Raytown, and Groceman said that callers were complaining about tractor-trailers in residential areas.

Groceman said those complaints led to about a year of discussion and public hearings on an ordinance to limit big rig parking in residential areas to two hours a day. Violators could be fined $50 to $500 per citation. The rule went into effect in 2004, but it wasn’t really enforced, and Pigue didn’t even know it existed.

Then the city found a little extra money in its budget and hired additional code-enforcement staff. That, and one city alderman’s dislike of a potato chip delivery truck in a driveway in his neighborhood across town from Pigue’s home, combined to create a crisis for Raytown truckers.

Wake up and smell the code enforcement
The next thing Pigue knew, there was a city pickup in front of his home. A code officer was taking photographs of his rig. Pigue asked what was going on and was told there was a city ordinance that prohibited him from parking his tractor in his driveway.

That’s when the American spirit really kicked in for Pigue.

He and other Raytown truckers started asking questions. Then they called local media and OOIDA headquarters. City officials responded by having a committee of the board of aldermen add the truck topic to its next agenda.

About 50 people were in the audience for that meeting March 8. Virtually all of them were truckers, wives of truckers, retired truckers or neighbors of truckers who voiced support for the truckers. There was also one alderman, who was not on the particular committee that was meeting and therefore spoke from the floor.

Alderman John Wylie said he had been opposed to the parking ban from the beginning and explained that he believed the ordinance was the result of another alderman’s personal whim.

“I felt like a voice of reason swimming upstream,” Alderman Wylie said. “I knew this would affect real people.

“… This got started a year and a half ago during a campaign when an alderman made promises. That alderman is here on this committee tonight and because he had a potato chip (delivery) truck parked up the street that he didn’t like,” we are all here discussing this problem.

The discussion lasted more than two and a half hours. Almost 20 people spoke from the audience, including OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Rick Craig. No one from the audience spoke in opposition of trucks – they spoke of truckers’ livelihoods, their lifestyles, their businesses, their sense of responsibility and their disappointment in their local government.

Then something incredible happened.

How the impossible can become possible
The committee unanimously agreed to recommend that the full board of aldermen reconsider the parking ban. The recommendation included a suggestion to suspend enforcement of the rule until the issue had been reviewed. Only two citations had been issued.

It wasn’t all roses though.

All of the six elected representatives on the committee that night reminded the truckers that the city had publicized the truck-parking ordinance during its development in local weekly newspapers, on the city Web site and on the city cable TV channel. None of the aldermen present – even the ones who had voted against the parking ban – ever heard any opposition from any truckers.

Truckers countered, saying that they didn’t know about the proposed ban because they were on the road working. Not good enough, said the city officials. Most Raytown residents have jobs and other responsibilities. That’s no excuse for not being informed about your hometown.

City officials did, however, acknowledge that truckers’ jobs make it particularly difficult for them to stay informed. So all were invited to provide addresses so that the city could direct mail information about the parking situation to them.

A week later, the full board unanimously voted to stop enforcing the parking ban. The aldermen established a committee of residents and city officials to explore the issue and make recommendations. Anyone who is interested is welcome to participate on the committee.

Groceman said that there is no guarantee that the parking ban will be repealed, but the fact that enforcement is suspended indefinitely is a major win for Raytown truckers. He said he didn’t know if all city governments would be as receptive to truckers, but he suggested a couple of ways to improve the odds.

“Don’t come in aggressive and drawing lines in the sand,” Groceman said. “Once those lines are drawn they are hard to ignore ... focus on one issue with an attitude that you want to work toward a compromise.

“And understand that the board has other issues. Yours is important, but it is not the only one your city is dealing with.”

coral_beach@landlinemag.com

March/April
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