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Business Q&A -- Bob Russell

Bob Russell is the newly appointed Oregon Trucking Association president. Previously he was OTA's director of government affairs during the 1999 and 2001 Oregon legislative sessions. Russell ran his family's trucking company in New Mexico before joining the Oregon Public Utility Commission's truck regulatory program. He later headed up the Transportation Program at the PUC. In 1995, he returned to the private sector as vice president for McCracken Motor Freight. He and his wife, Donna, have three children. They currently live in Salem.

Q: What have been the greatest obstacles for drivers and trucking companies since Sept. 11?

Like the rest of the country, the trucking industry was shocked by the events of Sept. 11. For the first couple of days, many in our industry were glued to their TV sets seeking an explanation for this terror. However, the industry also responded to the emergency. Within a very short period of time truckloads of relief supplies were heading to New York. This aid continued to pour into New York until officials announced that they did not have the capacity to handle any more. We are very proud of the trucking industry and the vital role we have played in responding to this disaster. The trucking industry continues to serve the people of New York and will assist with the rebuilding efforts.

In the weeks since the disaster, truckers have been delayed at border crossings and when entering major cities, particularly on the East Coast. This is due to necessary increased security measures since the attacks. However, the wheels continue to role as we transport the goods that are so essential to our nation's economy. It is important to remember that, if you've got it, a truck brought it.

Q: What is the long-term fallout for the industry following the terrorist attacks?

Long term, the trucking industry will be required to adopt new security measures to help prevent future attacks. Congress is currently considering a measure that would increase the scrutiny of our drivers, provide for tracking of hazardous shipments and increase security at our terminals and loading facilities. These necessary precautions are not unique to the trucking industry. It's just a fact of life that doing business in America has changed as we adapt to the new realities.

Q: Your organization recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. How much has trucking changed from the 1950s?

In the 50 years that OTA has represented the trucking industry in Oregon, the industry has changed dramatically. Historically, trucking was a highly regulated industry much like a public utility. The government determined who could be in the business, what services we were required to provide and how much we were allowed to charge our customers. In 1980, trucking between states was deregulated and in 1995 Congress pre-empted in-state trucking regulation. Deregulation of the trucking industry has benefited consumers through lower transportation costs, which has helped to fuel America's economy.

The other big change has been the increased use of technology in our industry. Today, our trucks have on-board computers, are tracked by satellites and incorporate other technologies to improve safety. These technologies have increased productivity within the industry while at the same time improving highway safety.

Q: What are the significant regulatory challenges facing the trucking industry?

In the next few years, heavy trucks will have to meet more stringent emission standards. Diesel engine manufacturers are now developing new engines. Changes in engine performance, resulting from these new standards, will require significant adjustment by truck fleet operators. At this time, we really do not know what changes will be required. It is the level of uncertainty that is currently challenging the trucking industry.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is also reviewing the existing regulations governing the hours our drivers can work. These regulations were put in place over 50 years ago. Changes in the technology used in heavy trucks and increased knowledge of worker fatigue will be considered in this review. Of paramount concern to the trucking industry is that the new regulations must help us to further improve our safety record while, at the same time, maintaining the industry's productivity.

Q: What was foremost on the minds of Southern Oregon truckers when you visited the region earlier this month?

The biggest concern voiced by Southern Oregon truckers during our recent meeting is the uncertainty caused by the events of Sept. 11. Without question, we are faced with changes in our operating practices but at this time we do not know to what extent. We are also concerned about the economic uncertainty brought about by these events. Like most Americans, the trucking industry is perplexed about what the future may bring. However, you can rest assured that the trucking industry will do its part to keep America moving.

To suggest a subject for this column, please contact business reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail