Jason Andrus is a third generation company executive at Doug Andrus Distributing, a trucking business based in Idaho. In August, he will also be named chairman of the board of the Idaho Trucking Association. In a phone interview, he answered the following questions about the association and the trucking industry in general.
Q. How long have you been a member of the Idaho Trucking Association?
A. My father was chairman of the association in ’97 and ’98, so at least 20 years.
Q. According to Kathy Fowers, president of the ITA, there are approximately 225 members in the association. What is the primary purpose of the group?
A. There’s a couple of purposes. (The first one is) advocacy, to have a united voice when we talk to legislators about laws that affect the trucking industry.
In addition, we promote a number of benefits to our members. One major thing that we push is safety. We have safety meetings monthly that help the trucking companies to learn how to do a better job on safety, and we educate members on regulations, things like that.
All of these things are covered: different ways to find safe drivers; how to train safe drivers; and dealing with accident investigation.
The number of accidents involving trucks goes down every year. It’s gone down a lot from the time they started keeping statistics. Most accidents are caused by a car, so we tell drivers to drive defensive. People don’t necessarily understand the risk of driving around a truck, for instance, and aggressive behaviors cause accidents.
Q. Is there anything new in the trucking industry that business readers might not be aware of, but need to be?
A. One thing would be that our highways are deteriorating, and there’s a number of bottlenecks, especially in larger cities, that need to be dealt with – and the funding for highways is really challenging right now. Nobody wants to raise any taxes, but because the fuel tax is paid per gallon, as cars and trucks become more efficient, the number of dollars paid into highway funds are less and less compared to the miles driven on the highway system.
In addition, a per gallon fuel tax doesn’t adjust for inflation. The highway funds collect less tax per vehicle mile travelled, but the cost to maintain each mile of highway is increasing. The fuel tax is still the most fair mechanism for funding highways, but it doesn’t automatically adjust for inflation the way other taxes do, for example, sales tax.
Q. How does constant road construction affect you, or frequent traffic jams, and how do you deal with them?
A. It is a challenging thing and goes back to funding, when you’re talking about congested roadways and the need to expand to handle all the vehicles on them. We try to train our drivers to take their time, leave a safe following distance and anticipate any changes in traffic.
Q. It may be a kind of too-frequent question lately, but how has the economy affected the industry?
A. Our company is doing better, but the industry as a whole has been hit hard by the economic recession – 5,500 trucking companies went bankrupt in 2008 and another 2,220 in 2009. In addition, many of the large companies have cut a number of trucks in their fleets significantly.
In the last six months or so, we’re seeing an increase in freight volume, so we’re optimistic. But it’s still challenging.
Q. It seems the price of gas is always an ongoing topic. It’s probably moot if you have to transport goods from one place to another no matter what, but how does the industry cope with it in general?
A. It gets so volatile that we’re not able to just cope with it, or just accept it, so we have a fuel surcharge in place which automatically rises with the price of diesel. Because of that, we’re able to pass it on to the customers.
Q. How much do air quality regulations affect – or hamper – trucking firms?
A. We want clean air as much as anybody, but the way it has been mandated has been challenging for the industry as well. In the last few years, the EPA has mandated certain emission levels that have been very challenging for engine manufacturers to meet; they’ve kind of been rushed to introduce the technologies that would give the quality the EPA wants. As a result of the rushed work, we’re seeing more breakdowns, more than ever in my career. They haven’t had time to engineer and test the product sufficiently.
Q. Can you tell me a little about Doug Andrus Distributing? I’ve seen the trucks on the freeway but wasn’t aware you’re an Idaho-based company.
A. We’re based in Idaho Falls. My grandfather started the company in 1937, so we’re coming on 75 years next year. I’m the third generation. We have 260 trucks and deliver to 48 states and Canada. We carry just about anything; two thirds of our freight is refrigerated and we focus on transporting potatoes out of the state. The other third is flatbed, to carry hay and building materials.
Q. In your own words, tell me how the trucking industry benefits all of us?
A. The trucking industry benefits anybody. Anything we eat or wear or use in any way got to us by a truck.