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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Thomas Outlaw, June 5, 1980. Interview H-0277. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Complex licensing issues for the trucking industry

Outlaw outlines some of the complex management issues trucking companies have to deal with as they transport goods from state to state. Different states have different policies, but they share one goal: to extract revenue from trucking companies.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Thomas Outlaw, June 5, 1980. Interview H-0277. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ALLEN TULLOS:
In the 1930's or as far back as you have ever heard about, could you talk about contoversies or political arguments or advocacies within the trucking industry? Would there be traditional kind of issues that would be coming up, either that you would have to deal with the legislature about or with other groups about?
JOHN THOMAS OUTLAW:
Yes. Getting into another field, just to broaden out the subject a little bit, when you get in your car and you go from one state to the other, when you pass over the imaginary line from South Carolina to North Carolina, you are not aware of it at all. But when a truck goes from one state to the other, the state must know that that truck is coming through. Before that truck goes, the individual carrier has to provide information that this truck is going to buy so many gallons to get it through the state. And they do that by a method of requiring a report from each carrier as to the vehicle itself and the number of units they have that are operating within the state. Then they keep records of the miles involved, and on that basis, for each mile you travel through a state, you have to buy an equivalent amount of fuel. If you don't buy it in there, you still have to pay the tax as if you did buy it in there. Then the license fee has always been a real problem for the fact that again, when you put a license plate on your car, you can go anywhere in the country you want to. But with a truck line, we now have allocations made, and we have different methods of taxing for the license, such as the ton-mile tax in the State of New York, where a truck pays on the basis of moving one ton one mile, and that's the basis of the charges for their license up there. In Ohio, it's the actual mile tax. And in North Carolina at one time we had the gross-recipts tax. It's still on the books, but today everybody pays a flat fee. To try to overcome the great variety of charges, the industry—and I've done right much work in that field—has come up with what they call an international registration plan. It's purely based on the miles that a truck travels within a state. For instance, in North Carolina, a carrier that… By the way, all of this is on a voluntary basis. A state doesn't have to join. In fact, we only have twenty-six states that belong to the international plan. But if they belong to it, let's say in North Carolina, we'd go down to the Motor Vehicle Department, and the Motor Vehicle Department would determine what states I was going to operate through, and then they would figure the miles of last year that the vehicle(s) travelled in that particular state. And then you would apply that as an individual truck, the cost involved for the miles involved per truck, and you'd pay the Motor Vehicle Department for your license in North Carolina. And they in turn would also collect for the other states that participate in it and send their fees to them, but you can use just only the North Carolina license. It's quite an advantage to have.
ALLEN TULLOS:
How early did these kind of issues appear in the industry?
JOHN THOMAS OUTLAW:
From the very beginning. I recall so well that back right after World War II, the federal government and the President of the United States had asked all states to eliminate all restrictions on trucks as to requiring licenses and that type of thing to go through, make it as easy as possible because they had to get the freight moved. So as soon as the War was over, these states quickly realized that here's a source of revenue that we're not even touching, and so they began to apply license fees against these trucks.
ALLEN TULLOS:
And those had been there before the War.
JOHN THOMAS OUTLAW:
Yes, they had been there before, but it wasn't enough movement then to be of any real consequence. The great distances of a truck moving was not too much involved. Tennessee was one of the first states to start requiring a license. Then some of the other states would say, "Well, you have so many trucks going through here, and we want you to buy a full license." It was just a hodge-podge of different things. North Carolina was a trucking state, because, for some reason or other, we did get ahead as far as the motor carriers were concerned, and we had more carriers really operating long distances domiciled in our state than any state in the nation. So we were more than just interested; we had to do something about it. I was on a committee that met in Atlanta, Georgia, with the other southern managers' association, and we decided that we just had to get the governors to intercede for the fact that each of the highway commissioners or the motor vehicle commissioners had complete authority to charge anything they wanted to. There was no way to break around that; if you want to operate through there, you just have to pay the full bill, more or less. So we got the governors to call the motor vehicle commissioners together—most of those handled the licenses in the various states—and they met and at that time worked out what was called the Multi-State Agreement. Here in the South we really were greatly benefitted for the fact it was operating almost as full reciprocity. If you did buy a license in North Carolina, you could then operate into any of these states that were part of that agreement. Some of the other states like Michigan and Maryland liked the idea, too, and so they joined in with us, although we called it a Southern State Agreement at the time. We later changed it to the Multi-State Agreement to incorporate that so it wouldn't have a southern name.
ALLEN TULLOS:
About when was that?
JOHN THOMAS OUTLAW:
That was in the late forties and early fifties.
ALLEN TULLOS:
This early advantage that you're talking about that North Carolina had, when would that have actually been visible, in the thirties? Already by that time you could see the fact that there were more trucks here and more trucking …
JOHN THOMAS OUTLAW:
No, I don't think it was until after World War II that North Carolina was recognized as a trucking state. I think up to then no one would have even paid much attention to how many trucks were in the state. They just were not important up to that time.