Using regulation to raise rivals costs

Michael Giberson

An NPR Morning Edition story, “Indie Truckers: Keep Big Brother Out Of My Cab,” reports on a change of attitude at the American Trucking Association toward proposals for mandatory electronic logging of long-haul truck movements.

This month, an industry group called the American Trucking Associations, which represents thousands of trucking companies, dropped its longstanding opposition to mandatory electronic logging and came out in favor of the idea.

And some big companies are now actively promoting electronic logging, with five major companies coming together to form a group called the Alliance for Driver Safety and Security. It’s lobbying Congress to pass a law requiring electronic logging, to make sure the proposed DOT rule goes through….

“We don’t want to be defined by the worst in our industry,” says Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety for Schneider National, one of the companies in that alliance. “We just think we need to elevate the expectations and the performance of all motor carriers.”

But Spencer, from the independent owner-operator drivers’ group, dismisses that argument. “When they talk about leveling the playing field, what they are really saying is we need to get behind efforts that will increase costs of our competitors,” Spencer says. “We don’t find that to be an especially noble effort.”

The costs will hit independent truckers like Button the hardest. And Button says they have objections beyond just the increased cost, saying it’s like having Big Brother come into their cabs to monitor their behavior.

“When I’m away from home, this is my home,” Button says. “Does somebody come in your front door and decide, ‘I want to plug into your computer and see where you’ve been today’?”

Not mentioned in this quote is that most large trucking companies have already installed the electronic logging equipment that the regulation would require.

HT to Peter Klein, who styles the story as a Bootleggers-and-Baptist effort. The ATA would be the “bootleggers” and the “baptists” in this regulatory episode would be highway safety group Road Safe America (see the RSA priorities list).

But in a traditional B-and-B story, the bootleggers support the effort from behind the scenes and let the baptists be the public face. In this case the ATA is proud to publicly support public safety, even if it may have a disproportionate and negative effect on small companies and independent operators (who may happen not to be ATA members).

“We don’t want to be defined by the worst in our industry” is a common sentiment among business people who want to use government to drive competitors out of the market.

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One thought on “Using regulation to raise rivals costs

  1. This story would have more punch if it documented an economically-meaningful cost for logging equipment.

    Given that a simple app can perform the logging on your average smartphone, I’m skeptical. All the hardware is present in a $250 gizmo that could even be the driver’s regular cellphone. (Don’t tell me that most drivers don’t have one.) Or, worst case, a driver could get one dedicated to the function, locked into a compartment in the cab.

    Not to say that regs couldn’t be written to lock in certain manufacturers. But it’d be rather straightforward to create a standard that a cheapo app could handle: accessible to the driver for verification, etc., but a tamper-proof database; logging would include user actions such as turning it on/off, which could indicate efforts to bypass the regs.

    This MIGHT be a B&B program. But it’s not likely to cause much anti-competitive harm unless the NHTSB wants it to.

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