Blog: Martinez’s FMCSA legacy may be that he listened

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If you happened to have been at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville in late March of 2018, you most likely recall two things:

  1. The city and the show at the Kentucky Expo Center were covered with a record-setting 7 inches of snow
  2. Newly-sworn-in Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration head Ray Martinez was there and busier meeting and greeting truckers than any vendor at any booth
FMCSA’s Ray Martinez at MATS in 2018 shortly after being sworn inFMCSA’s Ray Martinez at MATS in 2018 shortly after being sworn in

Martinez had been in office just a matter of weeks before walking into the belly of the trucking beast. There was still blood in the water over the mandated installation of electronic logging devices, and scant few drivers were of a mind to give Martinez the benefit of the doubt just because he was new.

Still, Martinez wandered the show floor, spent time at the FMCSA booth, and met with members of the media. Then, on Friday afternoon of the show, March 23, he mounted the stage in one of the large meeting rooms, essentially presenting himself as a convenient target. Some members of the audience took aim and fired. Repeatedly.

Not much slack was given the new guy. As colleagues at Overdrive would headline their report on the event, “FMCSA Administrator Martinez hits a buzzsaw of criticism and frustration at MATS”.

Welcome to the American trucking industry, Mr. Martinez. To which Martinez, unusually affable for a former government lawyer for New York State and commander of that state’s DMV and the one in New Jersey, seemed to reply, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

Ray Martinez at GATS in 2018Ray Martinez at GATS in 2018

In his 20 months at FMCSA, Martinez was out of his Washington, D.C. office often and speaking at trucking events and meeting face-to-face with drivers. A lot. Each time, he repeated what became his mantra of sorts, “Talk to me. Tell me your concerns. I want to know what you’re thinking.” Martinez never hinted he could make anyone’s even modest wish come true, but he was serious about wanting to know what they thought.

In August of 2018 he would hold a listening session at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, a visit he would repeat just two months ago. This past August he wanted to hear from truckers about the third rail of the industry, hours of service and the changes his agency was proposing. It seems those changes — or at least some version of them — are possible, ones that would provide drivers with even a modest amount of flexibility. 

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Now, Martinez will be gone just days after the comment period on those proposed changes ends. He won’t see them enacted if it comes to that, and that’s too bad.

Ray Martinez at one of the many events he attendedRay Martinez at one of the many events he attended

Martinez’s departure appears to have taken many in the industry by surprise. Some even seemed genuinely saddened by his exit. 

But, of course, the unfounded rumor mill and the late-night truck stop conspiracy theorists have been speculating like mad. Social media trolls have been working overtime. Some suggest he had done something wrong. Others claim something unseemly in his past was about to surface. There’s also speculation he angered someone in a seat of trucking power, someone who has the ear of his boss or even her boss.

None, of course, has a shred of proof that anything occurred other than his stated desire to leave Washington, D.C. to be closer to his family. That alone proves Martinez to be a smart guy.