From Freight 2025: "Bringing Back the Pony Express"

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This commentary is an excerpt from Freight 2025. To download the free ebook, click here.

Susan Fall is President of LaunchIt Public Relations.

After 25 years of making my living by understanding and promoting the use of technology in commercial vehicles I ponder many things when it comes to the trucking industry. I realize that there may not always be a very good answer to my questions, but the one thing in particular that just drives me crazy is: How can the trucking industry be perhaps the most vital industry in our country yet is perhaps the least understood and respected? How is that possible?

Why is it that when I tell people I’m in the trucking industry they pull their head back, slightly turn up the corner of their lip and give me a really odd questioning look? Why is it that the majority of Americans have no clue that without trucks their shelves would be bare? Why do young mechanics want to work for BMW but have no interest in working for Freightliner? How is it possible that truck-driving jobs are the number one means of employment in 29 states yet most people say the word “trucker” like they have a mouthful of burnt popcorn?

How can an industry be so unbelievably necessary yet so disdained? How can the people that bring us our food, medical supplies, beds, shoes, clothes, fuel, housing materials be the same people expected to sleep when told, wait around without pay, not use restrooms at customer facilities, have video cameras watching many of their movements and typically be the first accused in an accident? How can the people who are often first to risk their lives to bring supplies to flood-ravaged areas and quite often the first to stop at the scene of an accident be the same people that society turns their nose up at?

In a society that is working to establish equality for all sexes, races, religions and socio-economic rankings, how is it possible to snub the men and women that drive trucks? And not just the ones that drive them but the ones that build them and repair them as well? When we have historically struggled with both unemployment and underemployment, how can we possibly have such a massive and potentially catastrophic need for people to come work for the trucking industry?

It’s a problem for sure, but it’s a problem that for the first time in my 25 years in this industry I truly believe by 2020 will no longer be a problem. And it’s not because we’ll have driverless trucks but because by 2020 the importance of trucking is finally going to be realized and the men and women that work for this amazing and complex industry of ours will finally get the respect they deserve!

So how are we going to do it? How are we going to attract the next generation to make trucking their industry of choice for a career? We are going to do two things; harness the power of technology and change the way trucking operates.

If we have the ability to so accurately schedule truck-to-shelf deliveries how can we not have the ability to get drivers home every night? Or every week? If on time deliveries are expected of trucking companies then why aren’t wait loading and unloading expected of trucking customers? Why is one party (the trucking company) expected to arrive within a 15-minute window or risk being fined but the other party (the trucking customer) can keep a driver waiting for hours and often longer without being held accountable?

I know there is talk of distribution/staging areas to be strategically placed along highways so we can create a trucking style Pony Express. It's a good plan, but unlike the respected heroes of the first Pony Express, who patiently sipped whiskey in the saloon wondering when the next leg of the Express was going to begin, our drop and hook Pony Express will have to be a precise operation in order to succeed. That will take a change in the job description of the long haul driver—with no more unpaid waiting, no more weeks upon weeks away from home—and a change in the way trucking is viewed.

We have the ability to take advantage of the marriage of technology and a new way of thinking about trucking operations to improve the life of drivers so more people are attracted to this vital industry, and in turn make trucking well respected and understood.

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