Writing at Trains and Travel, Jim Loomis notes the conjuring trick by which the motor carriers have presented themselves as the quintessence of small business, while attaching themselves firmly to the public teat.
Why does the trucking industry have such influence in Congress? Well, first of all, regulators can only enforce the rules that politicians pass into law. And then there’s the Supreme Court decision that said there is no limit to the size of campaign contributions that can be made to members of Congress by corporations and industry lobbyists.
True, but not relevant. The motor carriers receive a great deal of public largesse in the form of roads they damage without liability, and in the form of freedom to intrude into almost all neighborhoods without special movement permits.

Perhaps among one segment of rail advocates, it suffices to gripe about the Tea Party or Donald Trump or whoever the boogeyman is today. But that's not the real problem.
And as we head for another election year, we’re still hearing angry people complaining that government … especially the federal government … is intruding into our lives. Too much regulation, they yell. Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem. Don’t tread on me … yadda-yadda-yadda.
In this instance, the trucks are treading on people, too often literally. Big Government is the facilitator, and Big Government is socializing the costs (the congestion, the crashes, the pounding of roads and bridges to pieces) while privatizing the profits (the allegedly cheaper goods the big trucks, half full onr not, make possible at the big box stores.
And while the rest of us do our best to be informed and come to conclusions based on facts, the politicians — not all, but a lot of them — just vote the way they’re told by the lobbyists for the big banks and the defense contractors and the pharmaceutical companies. And, of course, the trucking industry.
Yes, and have you considered the implications of "enumerated and limited powers?"
It’s probably just a question of time before enough of the knee-jerk anti-government jerks stop yelling and actually take a look around. It just better not take too long.
Feel better, now? Like anything else, deconstructing crony capitalism takes thought and work. But we can reduce it to a bumper sticker.

It's the rent-seeking, stupid.

And The Trucks Are Killing Us in the Grey Lady illustrates precisely how rent-seeking works.
The trucking industry, through its chief trade group, the American Trucking Associations, insists that it needs longer work weeks and bigger vehicles so that more trucks will not be needed on the road, which it says could result in more accidents. That logic is laughable, but Congress seems to be buying it.

The industry also bases its opposition to safety-rule changes on money, saying that increasing costs will hurt profits and raise rates for shippers and, ultimately, consumers.
Pricing resources properly, second-best arguments notwithstanding, provides incentives to allocate resources efficiently.  But recognizing that even larger trucks will translate into even more congested traffic and more fatalities, shifting the cost of delivery from consumers (let the beneficiary bear the burden) to whoever happens to be run over or simply delayed a few more minutes enroute to or from work.

I have to wonder, though, why are motor carriers simultaneously griping about a truck driver shortage whilst subjecting drivers to longer hours and less wieldy vehicles?  What good does it do to be more highly paid if you have no time to spend it?


David Foster said...

Are there any credible analyses of truck damage to roads versus the fees that they are charged?

Stephen Karlson said...

I've been on this for years. It varies, state by state. Here's an evaluation of overweight permits for 2007. Here's Lake County, Illinois, calling B.S. on the truckers claiming to pay full fare. Here's more recent information.

I suspect a few minutes' searching the indexes of The Journal of Transport Economics and Policy and Environment and Planning will be productive.