Secretary Chao, let’s talk about the money truckers spend

April 2, 2019

Wendy Parker

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Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s keynote address at the Mid-America Trucking Show was a little surreal, to say the least. Her entrance and opening statements were punctuated with a weird power-loss that threw the room into total darkness long enough for the security detail to get their fur up.

It was a little unnerving, to say the least. The atmosphere was already highly charged with anticipation of her announcement. Losing power didn’t help with the at-odds vibe of the whole gig.

I’m not sure what everyone was expecting, but what we got (besides being made aware of how fast Secretary Chao’s security detail can move in total darkness) was the confirmation that we’re one step further ahead in the enormously stupid-long process it takes to change or make rules.

The End.

Of course, she said a lot of other stuff, and reminded us not once, but twice, that Louisville is her hometown. She encouraged us to “spend a lot of money” in her hometown. Twice. (Did I mention that? I think I did. Sometimes I do go on, don’t I?)

More on that later.

So obviously, Secretary Chao wasn’t going to get up there and say, “Hey y’all, we’re all go on the HOS changes, can’t say anything else until the money people cut us loose, but it’s totally not about the money. Much love, I’m thinking about you. Spend tons of money while you’re here, it’s my hometown! Bye now!”

But that’s kind of what she did say.

I think more than a medium-sized portion of the audience was pretty much expecting her to say exactly what she said. You can hate the messenger all you want, but it doesn’t change the process. She came to speak to us face-to-face. She was jovial and positive and that’s her dang job because 98 percent of politicking is being nice to people in public.

You can’t ignore the fact that we’ve gotten a helluva lot more interaction and one-at-a-timing from the Secretary Chao/Ray Martinez (administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) combo than we have in a very long time. I believe these people are trying to do their job. Even more encouraging, they’re trying to learn more about the actual job of trucking instead of what a bunch of Virginia Tech studies tell them about the numbers associated with the job.

That being said, the excruciatingly slow process remains intact. We’re realistically still months away from any HOS rule change.

You can take that as a stroke in the positive direction, or you can hide and watch until the actual rule is published before doing a happy dance. I prefer to affiliate myself with the latter of the two choices. It’s safer. I’m not emotionally invested either way until I see the words on paper. Because words matter.

Now, let’s go back to Secretary Chao encouraging attendees to spend money in Louisville.

I get it. Tourism is income for cities. And trust me with the MATS crowd, the NCAA Sweet 16 and the National Association of Kazoo Enthusiasts being in town – I was told the Kazzoers were there, but didn’t actually see or hear them – Louisville raked in the dough this past week.

But, given how open Chao and Martinez are to engaging with the trucking masses, let me take this opportunity to talk about how much money truckers spend in every city and state in the country on a daily basis.

We spend a gigantic TON of money in every hometown every time we roll through. Not to mention that the stuff trucks bring allow each special little slice of American heaven to have the things people spend money for. You know, food, merchandise, lovely large conventions full of deep pockets and eye-catching displays – all the gee-gaws necessary to attract money-spending.

For instance, how do you think all that Kentucky bourbon gets around? Trucks do that for you. And they pay to use your roads, park, purchase fuel, food and necessities when they’re picking it up to haul away.

I understand the enthusiasm for the hometown and hoping people support the commerce within it. What I hope is that you, Secretary Chao, will look at more closely into is how much money truckers spend in the way of taxes, tolls, fees, licenses, permits and so forth just to get the job done. We spend more than our fair share when it comes to highway users, and we’d love to have that dialogue next with you when we cross paths again.

Wendy Parker

Wendy Parker has covered the trucking industry since 2012 after she says she “lost my mind and decided to climb inside my husband’s big truck to travel with him as an over-the road, long-haul trucker.” Her unique writing style that ranges from biting satire to investigative journalism coupled with her unbridled passion for fighting round out a wildly talented stable of writers.