AMID THE CLAMOR of the business world against government regulation, the trucking industry is sounding a discordant note. The truckers, and the Teamsters who drive those trucks, like government regulation. It keeps their business orderly and profitable. So it is understandable that they are pulling out all the stops to prevent major changes in the existing regulatory system. Fortunately, they have lost the first round.
In a series of close votes, the Senate Commerce Committee has tentatively approved legislation that would introduce more competition than the trucking industry has seen in 40 years. The bill would make it easier for new companies to go into the business; it would strip away that part of the exemption from the antitrust laws that permits truckers to get together and fix prices; and it would give individual truckers freedom to set their own rates.
These and the other, more technical provisions of the bill would neither dismantle the Interstate Commerce Commission nor return the trucking industry to the disorderly and unprofitable state it was in during the 1930s. In fact, they constitute a far more gentle form of deregulation than that proposed by the Carter administration. Nevertheless, the industry's lobbyists have tried hard to change the minds of some members of the Commerce Committee, in particular that of Sen. John Warner of Virginia, before the final vote, which is scheduled for today.
Instead of weakening the bill, the committee should strengthen it. It can do so by adopting the administration's proposal to exempt the hauling of all food and food products from rate regulation. When some agricultural commodities were exempted from that kind of regulation in 1950, rates dropped 15 to 30 percent. A repetition of that performance in the rest of the food market might not be in the best financial interest of the truckers, but it certainly would be in the best interest of that larger class of people known as consumers.
This struggle is over money. More competition in the trucking industry should bring lower rates to shippers and that should force greater efficiency into a business that could benefit from it. More competition would also bring greater financial risks to the truckers, who would lose part of the protective shield government regulation has provided since the 1930s. That loss, no doubt, would be a shock to the truckers. But it is a necessary step in reducing the excessive costs that needless regulation has piled on the economy.