IN A MESSAGE to Congress two weeks ago, President Carter said, "the trucking industry today is subject to perhaps more complex, detailed and burdensome federal regulation than any other other industry in our nation." He was right, of course. But the reaction of the trucking industry to his message suggests the truckers like it that way.
The spokesmen and lobbyists were busy denouncing most of the president(s proposals even before these reached the Hill. They claim that his proposals to replace much of the federal regulation with open competition will be disastrous for both truckers and those who hire trucks to carry freight.
But the fact is that major changes need to be made in the control the Interstate Commerce Commission exercises over almost every aspect of the trucking business. And the question of which changes would most benefit the nation's economy is likely to be lost in the simplification of the issues that has ensued into an argument between those who are for and those who against deregulation.
The part of the trucking industry that moves household goods provides an example. The existing system, in which the cost of a move is determined by the weight of the goods, has driven householders mad over the years -- and with reason. Both the Icc and the responsible movers know that daily some of the people who are moving are being badly treated. But neither has come up with a way of eliminating the cheating -- weight "bumping," as it is called in the trade, when the number of pounds charged far exceeds the number actually shipped.
Would less regulation of the movers and, presumably, an increase in competition help relieve this problem? Or would a replacement of the weight charges be a predetermined contract price on each move be better? Or should the federal government get into the business of running the scales itself and thereby increase the amount of regulation?
Question of this kind about all aspects of the trucking business need to be addressed during the debate in Congress on the president's proposals. But they are likely to be lost as those proposals become a battleground between those who want strict regulation [paradoxically, the truckers, who are usually regarded as a group of free-enterprisers] and those who want open competition [the government, which is usually regarded as wanting to regulate everything].