The American Trucking Associations (ATA) will stay out of the long-running fight over establishing a national standard for twin 33-foot trailers because its membership is too divided over the issue for the group to speak with one voice, a top ATA official said Wednesday.
ATA First Vice-Chairman Randy Guillot, who is also president of intermodal and dry van trucking company Southeastern Motor Freight, Inc., said ATA “cannot get the needle moved” in the debate because it lacks a unified position. Speaking at the SMC3 summer conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Guillot said ATA supports efficiency improvements. Advocates of extending the length of each trailer to 33 feet from 28 feet state that efficiency would be a result of a change in the 37-year-old law. However, conflicting positions within the membership preclude the association from taking a position, he said.
ATA’s membership is comprised of less-than-truckload (LTL) and parcel carriers that support the change because they would be the prime beneficiaries, and truckload carriers that wouldn’t directly benefit and might see longer vehicles as a threat to their competitive position. ATA found itself in an embarrassing position four years ago when two top truckload carriers, Werner Enterprises Inc. (NASDAQ:WERN) and US Xpress Enterprises Inc. (NYSE:USX) endorsed the measure. Since then, however, all of ATA’s truckload segment has been brought into line to oppose the plan. The Association of American Railroads (AAR), which for years remained neutral on the issue, came out against it last year in a move that surprised many people.
There have been repeated efforts over the past five to seven years to change the existing law, which has been in effect since 1982. Some years have produced more optimism on the part of supporters than have others. Each time, however, the proposals have been killed.
The proposed change in trailer equipment length would primarily benefit LTL carriers because they operate twin-trailers. Supporters of the measure said that adding 10 feet of length would increase the efficiency of each tractor-trailer hauled by 16 to 18 percent. The measure would improve safety and increase fuel efficiency by removing trucks from the road because more freight could be loaded onto each trailer. The change wouldn’t put additional stress on roads because it would not add any weight to the vehicle, supporters said.
In addition, longer trailers are desperately needed to accommodate the growing amount of e-commerce deliveries of varying sizes, supporters said.
Opponents maintain that the nation’s highway system, especially its merge lanes and on-off ramps, were not configured to handle tractor-trailer combinations 10 feet longer than the current law. The longer equipment would travel on local access roads where the 28-foot trailers are allowed to operate, thus putting more pressure on arteries where motorists frequently travel, opponents said. Highway safety advocates, organized labor and the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) have opposed the measure.
To respond to safety concerns, supporters of the longer twin trailers recently endorsed proposed steps they said would increase the safety performance of the longer vehicles.