by Rick Woelfel
The transportation industry has grown and evolved with the passage of time, and the Georgia Motor Trucking Association has evolved along with it. GMTA celebrated its 80th anniversary this year, and TRUX took the opportunity to hear the reflections of some of the dedicated individuals who have led the association in the past.
Herb Matthews served as GMTA chair in 1990 – 1991 before going on to head up the ATA in 1991 – 1992.
Matthews recalls the 1980s as a time when the transportation industry was in a state of flux. “We had a bad economy in the 80s. Plus, the trucking industry was deregulated. What that did was cause everybody to go to a different pricing structure. We’d been dealing with strict regulations from the state and the federal government and now all of a sudden it’s a free world to do whatever you want to do.
“And people really didn’t know how to go about discounting. One company finally busted the egg and started doing it. Then everybody else was doing it and the prices went downhill from there.”
Matthews says that at a time when people in the industry were in essence learning as they went along, Ed Crowell provided leadership for GMTA’s membership.
“I’ve been very proud of what he’s done for GMTA,” Matthews says. “He knows his way around the state capital; he knows how to handle himself with the legislature and get what is best for Georgia’s motor truckers.”
Ed Brown chaired the organization from 1992 – 1994 at a time when the industry was still adapting to deregulation.
“When the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 went into effect [in 1981]it completely changed the competitive and strategic landscape of our industry,” he says.
“Approximately 10 years later, when I was chairman, we were still relatively young in terms of learning how to operate as an industry and as individual companies in a deregulated environment.
“I think the biggest difference between now and then has been all the dynamics that come into play in a deregulated environment as opposed to a highly regulated environment.”
One of Brown’s proudest achievements is helping make the decision to hire Ed Crowell to succeed Charles Skinner as GMTA’s managing director (the title was later changed to president & CEO, in 1994). “It was myself and a couple other people on the search committee,” he recalls. “Being able to introduce Ed as our new executive director was our most significant accomplishment, and it still is today.”
Today, Brown works with a private equity group that has investments in the transportation industry. Consequently, he still follows the industry closely. “Our association is different today,” he says. “In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, our association was primarily dominated by LTL carriers; certainly they had a very heavy influence.
“Deregulation brought a whole new generation of carriers. There were a lot of people in the association in 1990 who 10 years earlier weren’t even in the trucking business.”
Mike Phillips chaired GMTA from 1998 – 2000. By the time he assumed the chairman’s post the industry had largely adapted to the effects of deregulation. But it was continuing to evolve, as truck manufacturers developed more efficient engines.
“We didn’t have the fuel economy we have today,” he says. “We knew how many miles we were getting and how much we were spending on fuel. But we had to do all our calculations with a pencil, paper and a calculator. We might know we were getting four [miles per gallon], but we didn’t know that one vehicle was getting four and another was getting seven.
“With today’s trucks we can monitor things like speed, miles per gallon and idling time. It also lets us monitor our drivers; some of them drive a little too close to the limit.”
Phillips, who for many years headed a division of NAPA Auto Parts, says GMTA has filled an important role by educating truck manufacturers, legislators and others about the issues that impact the industry. He notes that despite the changes in the industry through the years, the mission of the owner or fleet manager remains unchanged.
“We’re a service industry,” he says. “Service is what we’re all about. If it takes you two weeks to get a shipment to California and someone else can do it in five days, you won’t be going to California too often.”
Dave Hudson held the chairman’s post from 2000 – 2002. During that span, GMTA established a partnership with the Georgia Department of Transportation to expedite the flow of truck traffic and improve safety in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. The program was the first of its kind in the nation. Several interchanges in the Atlanta area were re-engineered to make them easier for larger trucks to negotiate.
In addition, GMTA helped shepherd a bill through the legislature that allowed the GDOT more flexibility in determining what lanes they could use on interstate highways.
Hudson credits Ed Crowell with getting the measure through the legislature.
“Ed has the ability to go across the road,” Hudson says, “and work not only with the political people, but also the government officials who make it happen.”
Ed Carter served as GMTA chair from 2005 – 2007. Today, he’s retired after a long career with Lithonia Lighting, where he was responsible for a fleet of 35 tractors and 150 trailers.
Carter says GMTA was a much-needed support system for smaller fleets. “We had our trailers scattered at various distribution points,” he says. “I pretty much had to be responsible for the whole ball of wax: hire drivers, equipment, safety issues, hours of service and all those kinds of things.
“For an organization like GMTA to stay on top of everything that was taking place legislation-wise, it was a big benefit to us.”
During his time as GMTA chair, Carter took part in a study conducted by the State Road and Tollway Authority. At issue was the feasibility of creating truck-only toll lanes [TOT] in the metro Atlanta area to reduce congestion and decrease shipping time.
“The thing they were talking about doing at the time was putting in special lanes for trucks only,” Carter says, “and charging a toll based on the volume of traffic; something similar to what they’re doing now on I-85. The thought was that the movement of freight would be a lot quicker through rush hour.”
The proposal would have benefited Carter’s own firm, which often transported raw materials through the Atlanta area to a plant in Cochran, but it never came to fruition.
“As I recall, most truckers were comfortable with tolls as long as they had the option to choose the toll roads or general purpose lanes. When talk started about forcing trucks to use toll lanes all the time, GMTA opposed it,” Carter says. “We didn’t want the industry to be the sacrificial cash cow for those proposing the roads.”
Carter has always empathized with the drivers, those who actually moved his company’s freight. And as he contemplates the future of the transportation industry, he’s convinced that hiring and maintaining quality drivers will always be a source of concern for fleet operators.
“[Drivers] earn their money,” he said. “Truck driving is a difficult life. The average age for my drivers was over 50. The guys were getting older and retiring and the younger generation was just not interested in running the way those guys did, being away from home and those kinds of things. It’s a difficult life.”
Harold Sumerford, Jr. chaired GMTA from the summer of 2007 through the summer of 2009.
His time as chair was highlighted by the passage of an anti-indemnity bill in the Georgia legislature that limited the liability of trucking firms due to the actions of their shippers.
“That was our biggest nugget,” he says.
Sumerford recalls the bill was needed because indemnity clauses were starting to appear that significantly increased the liability exposure of trucking companies for accidents, regardless of whether the carrier or the shipper was at fault.
The measure was part of a nationwide grassroots effort by the ATA to protect its members. Getting it through the statehouse proved difficult, says Sumerford, until Crowell put his considerable legislative talents to the task.
“Ed was the sole reason that legislation passed. It was very impressive, the way he got that bill through.”
Today, Sumerford, the CEO of J&M Tank Lines, serves the association as a director for life. As he examines the state of the transportation industry, his focus is on driver related issues, including the recently revised HOS regulations and, in particular, the seemingly endless search for quality drivers.
“Good drivers are extremely hard to find,” Sumerford says. “You have to pay a lot of money for them.”
Bob Fauls’ two-year stint as GMTA chair came to an end this past June. His tenure saw two major legislative successes in the Georgia statehouse. One bill dealt with the trailer theft issues that were plaguing the industry, particularly in the Atlanta area. It put the onus on scrap yard operators to determine if anyone wishing to sell a trailer for scrap actually owned the trailer they were trying to sell.
Another measure, which won’t completely kick in until 2014, streamlines the state’s ad valorem tax on trucks, specifically the manner in which that tax is collected.
Fauls, who considers himself semi-retired from Southern Freight, the company he founded 33 years ago, says it’s important for GMTA members, not just the leadership, to establish open lines of communication with their state and local lawmakers.
“What we’ve been successful at is energizing our members to be aware of the legislation we’re working on,” he says, “and being available to make those calls you need to make when you have a bill coming up.
“You want to contact your state or federal lawmaker and tell them ‘Rick, this is something we need. The interests of the GMTA are aligned with your interests. You want to make Georgia a good place to do business and you want us to operate in a safe and effective manner.’”
During his time as chair, Fauls, who still sits on GMTA’s Executive Committee, was committed to increasing member involvement in association affairs. He remains just as committed to that philosophy today.
“There was a complacency that grew out of our success,” he says. “It was a challenge to remind people that there are always new challenges ahead that we need to prepare ourselves to meet. I’m glad to say many members have risen to the challenge.”
Fauls, like many of his peers in GMTA, worries about an ever-expanding and seemingly
ever-changing compilation of federal regulations.
“It’s fine to have rules and policies that affect your business that you can understand and adjust to,” he says. “But today there are more rules and regulations – and they keep changing.
“A policy will come out of Washington that will dictate a course of action that we must take to comply. Typically, though, they’re in place for a period of time or there’s some natural progression to them. Now we may get two or three policies that are conflicting in nature. We can’t constantly fight those battles and run successful companies at the same time. And that’s why we need GMTA now more than ever.”