Strength by association: OOIDA members flex their influence muscles

by Dick Larsen, senior editor

The “word” started spreading prior to the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY, when OOIDA and Land Line’s Web sites flew into “alert/action mode” — then came satellite radio hosts Dale Sommers, Dave Nemo and Bill Mack, who mobilized the “XM nation” and encouraged lively debate. Eventually, congressional offices around the country began to get the word.

The word was a resounding “NO” to a proposal in the House Transportation Bill calling for mandatory tolls on already-paid-for interstate highways.

A Web-based Land Line report prior to MATS, a scant few days before change would have been possible, alerted drivers of the House Transportation Bill proposal to allow states to convert existing interstates built with gas taxes into toll roads.

The alert warned of double taxation: “It is absolutely outrageous for lawmakers to be altering historically sound and successful highway policy by adding tolls to existing interstate highways, but it appears this is exactly what they are doing,” Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice president, said. “If that’s the case, there is only one tolling provision in all of Congress that has any merit or integrity for highway users — that’s the FAST Act.”

Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-MN, and Rep. Adam Smith, D-WA, introduced the FAST Act (HR 1767). Kennedy later crafted an amendment based on the act to require any tolls on existing interstate highways to be collected on new lanes only, from users who voluntarily choose to drive on those lanes.

Moreover, toll revenue could be spent only on the lanes where it was collected, and the tolls would be eliminated once the lane is paid for. In addition, there would be electronic collection — no cash tolls or tollbooths.

At the time, Kennedy spoke on the need for the amendment: “FAST is a simple idea — it generates revenue for construction of new roads, while allowing voluntary user-choice and increasing user confidence. What came out of the committee fails on all three counts — it allows for fees on existing roads; the fees don’t go away when the road is paid for; and the fees can be diverted to other projects. I look forward to fixing this problem on the House floor. We need to guarantee users that fee-based lanes aren’t just a tax increase by another name.”

MATS action
Sometimes, success is the stepchild of good timing — in addition to hard work.

Each year at MATS, thousands of professional drivers and others in the trucking industry gather at the same place — Louisville.

Much like a Derby contender, OOIDA’s Gary Green, head of Business Services, had a single goal and a race to win: “We didn’t have much time and these guys needed to know what was about to happen in Washington, DC.”

With missionary zeal, Green and several OOIDA staff handed out flyers and informed anyone who would listen about the “disaster” at hand. The flyers declared, “Call your U.S. Congressman now — the U.S. House of Representatives will be voting next week on HR 3550 that will allow widespread tolling on interstate highways.”

OOIDA also took out ads in the two Washington, DC-based publications that cover Capitol Hill, reminding leaders that “Tolls Are Taxes.”

During and after MATS, drivers responded by jamming congressional phone lines, with nearly 1,000 association members calling one Georgia congressman, urging the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to instead adopt the Kennedy amendment.

Despite strong opposition from influential members of Congress, the amendment passed April 2 by a vote of 231-193.

Hurdle one … on to hurdle two
Shortly after the show, OOIDA’s members turned their attention toward House and Senate conferees who must agree on the two bodies’ different versions of a bill that eventually goes to President Bush for his signature.

“Professional truckers won one for themselves and the entire nation, but our work is not over just yet,” Jim Johnston, OOIDA president, said after the show. “Now the effort must be directed to the House/Senate conference committee that will reconcile the differences between House and Senate versions of what will become a final transportation bill.”

In that vein, OOIDA asked members to once again seek meetings with, call, write or e-mail their representatives, particularly senators, while they were home two weeks for an Easter break and upon their return to Capitol Hill. And once again, OOIDA members will take to the airwaves and satellite radio to make their views known.

OOIDA influences carrier safety reviews
In another success, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration March 30 announced a final rule effective April 29, 2004, that recognizes a driver’s right to review previous employer reports and professional safety records when drivers seek a position with a prospective employer.

Specifically, OOIDA agreed with FMCSA on the need for a provision giving drivers the right to review, correct and rebut information related to previous employer reports about driver history.

FMCSA said, “Any driver must be able to request that prospective motor carrier employers provide information received from previous employers.” Such requests must be made in writing, the agency added.

In addition, the proposed rule at first required previous employers to go back three years to confirm employment and provide other information about employees such as crash involvement, alcohol and controlled substance violations, rehabilitation efforts, and reversion to illegal alcohol or controlled substances if rehabilitation was unsuccessful.

OOIDA was concerned such investigations might include information older than three years. So FMCSA included an OOIDA suggestion that the three-year period begin from the date the employment application was accepted.

Complaints about failures to comply with this rule will be investigated by FMCSA. Carriers failing to comply will be cited and may be subject to civil penalties.

The rule is required under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Authorization Act and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. It applies to all regulated motor carrier employers whose employees apply to work for a motor carrier in interstate commerce.

Dick Larsen can be reached at