By Bill Boyd
When a nephew of mine gets his road time finished, he will be one of the newbies right out of driving school. I know I am preaching to the choir with many of you who have been around as long as or longer than I have, but when talking with him recently, I realized the scope of knowledge and experience we have gives new meaning to the phrase, "been there, done that."
Thirty-five years - how can we as trucking professionals ever convey even a small portion of that knowledge and experience to those starting out in the beginning of a new century?
Ouch. That really makes me feel old. Computers, satellite tracking, $3-per-gallon fuel - where do you start?
Well, you could start with fuel at 30 cents a gallon. Tires were $90, now they're $400; motels are up from $12 to $60; dinner has gone from $1.50 to $12. A top-of-the-line truck sold for $30,000 in the 1970s, now it's $130,000 or more.
During the three decades leading up to the turn of the century, my revenue went up 14 percent while my expenses went up 40 percent.
Unfortunately, many new drivers feel, as I did when I started driving in 1972, that the old guys are out of touch and have nothing to offer in the way of knowledge.
Change has a way of sneaking up on you if you do not pay attention. I consider myself lucky that I had been around trucking a number of years before starting out on my own.
No doubt, the fuel shortage of '73 caught everyone by surprise. It was a new ballgame when fuel prices were going up daily and you were only allowed to buy 50 gallons at a time. It was also difficult paying expenses when you and your truck were shut down in protest. It wasn't very long after that I joined the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. It was a smart move then and even smarter now.
It was then that most of us learned what a fuel surcharge was, and we had mixed feelings about it. While we were grateful for the extra bucks, many of us saw it as a "wolf in sheep's clothing." Then, as today, based on how you were paid, the surcharge could be a money maker or just a means to an end.
What many of us feared then, as now, is that much of the money was not - and still is not - going to those who buy the fuel. And once the surcharge ends, rates will not rise enough to offset the new accepted price of fuel. It happened before and will certainly happen again.
Get your rates adjusted now while the customer/shipper is accustomed to the higher charges and it won't be nearly as difficult to get an acceptable rate that will last a while. Do not wait until you are forced to take it or leave it again, because there will always be someone that will take it.
The reason they can take it happened a long time ago.
Beginning in the '70s, the movement toward deregulation started - not only in trucking but all of transportation and other industries as well. That turned out to be good for consumers and large manufacturers, especially those involved with import/export.
It is easy to see the effects with airlines trying to cannibalize each other and telecommunications companies offering more for less on nearly a weekly basis. All this came crashing down on truckers with the passage of the 1980 Motor Carrier and Staggers Rail acts.
Trains would continue eating up tax dollars and trucking would never be the same again.
Trucking companies that, for decades, served customers along defined routes with price-controlled rates suddenly had no defined routes or rates. Operating authorities previously worth millions became, overnight - to use a cliché - hardly worth the paper they were written on.
Although some of the regulations have changed or been eliminated, most of the aggravation we put up with under the Interstate Commerce Commission is now within the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation. The legislation did not actually deregulate trucking; it deregulated the economics of trucking.
While it is true many of the new carriers that popped up like toadstools after a rain made a good business better, many more went by the wayside like litter along the big road. However, without the constraints of the ICC and other government bureaucracies, entrepreneurs would have had little incentive to create new products and services we all take for granted, including trucking.
I told my nephew this: no matter the obstacles, detours or dead ends a trucker runs into in the future, one thing will remain the same. With an open mind and an honest will, you cannot only survive in trucking, but do very well in it.
It is said that what goes around comes around. So when those old geezers start telling stories in the next booth, shut your mouth and open your ears. Whatever it is, it is for sure someone has been there before you.
Life Member Bill Boyd joined the Association in 1983 and now serves on the OOIDA Board of Directors. He's been trucking since 1972. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.