Guest Column

Uncle Sam, business developer

Avery Untitled 1By Avery Vise, Editorial Director

Americans are conditioned to think negatively about our national government. That’s understandable given that most everything the Feds do seem to raise businesses’ costs, either directly or indirectly. But in almost every regulation, policy or piece of legislation, there are both winners and losers.

Measures that might have broad public benefits can be bad — or at least costly — for certain people or businesses. And laws that are costly for large numbers could be moneymakers for a select few. That’s why Washington, D.C., is teeming with lobbyists.

Few industries face as much regulation as the trucking industry. True, the government no longer monitors freight rates or tells trucking companies where they can and can’t go. But in so many other areas, the Feds closely monitor how fleets conduct their businesses — especially how they manage their drivers.

For the most part, this regulation makes it more expensive for your customers to operate. In that respect, truck fleets can be considered losers, although larger carriers ultimately may be winners because extensive regulation makes it harder for smaller weak carriers to survive and thrive. Who else is a winner? You are, at least potentially.

New government initiatives could mean more trucks, parts and service.

Consider just a few of the measures the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has taken recently or plans to take in the near future. The Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, formerly known as CSA 2010, is one of the most frequently discussed new safety initiatives affecting the trucking industry. The February 2011 issue of Truck Parts & Service will explore in some depth the ways in which CSA could benefit parts suppliers and service providers. For now, accept this conclusion: Vehicle maintenance problems that many fleets and drivers once largely ignored are now significant.

Another ongoing initiative is a change in the regulations governing truck drivers’ work hours.

Just before Christmas, FMCSA proposed changes in the hours-of-service regulations that would make trucking operations less productive. And if fleets are less productive, they will need more trucks and trailers to accomplish the same amount of work. More trucks and trailers, of course, mean more parts and service.

Some opportunities presented by government regulation aren’t so obvious. Through various regulatory and enforcement actions, FMCSA is pushing trucking operations to adopt electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs).

Why should you care? For starters, EOBRs force fleets into stricter compliance with hours-of-service rules, reducing productivity in the same way that new rules would. Also, the need to install EOBRs will lead more truck operators into telematics and onboard communications. How you can capitalize on this trend is limited only by your creativity and technical capabilities. It does appear, however, that in the short run, the trend toward telematics seems to benefit OE dealer shops more than independents.

It’s unwise for you to publicly endorse regulations that potentially will increase your revenues while driving down your customers’ productivity and equipment utilization. Just quietly enjoy the rare moment when the ongoing shenanigans in Washington make you a winner rather than a loser. n

Avery Vise is editorial director, fleet/dealer/aftermarket for Randall-Reilly and chief editor of Commercial Carrier Journal.

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