At the American Trucking Associations Management Conference and Exhibition, the ATA annual convention, in San Diego, California, the associations’ research arm introduced the fifteenth annual survey of members with the job of assessing the Top 10 issues in trucking.
It’s an interesting ranking that changes a little every year as the economy waxes and wanes, as new legislation appears, as new technology emerges, but there are a number of constants that always appear in the Top 10. As well as the fleets, drivers are also canvassed and it is less interesting to view the Top 10 overall, but the issues that are pressing for fleets and those for drivers separately. As you can imagine, they are some of the same but in a very different order.
Overall, the industry is greatly concerned about the driver shortage and this tops the overall ranking for the third year in a row. That is hardly surprising for these years have been economically strong and trucking is only one of many industries experiencing a shortage of good people in the workforce.
The problem, though, is that the trend truckers are experiencing could have a bad effect on the economy as today’s shortage of nearly 70,000 drivers is predicted to blossom to 160,000 by 2028. As trucking accounts for four percent of GDP, such a shortage would mean overall pain as goods run out on store shelves, fuel doesn’t get delivered, medicines don’t reach drug stores and even sand and gravel doesn’t get out of the quarries and on and on. Don’t forget, there’s nothing in everyone’s life that doesn’t get hauled on a truck at some point in its distribution.
Drivers’ number one grouse is compensation. Now there’s a thing!
The fleets rank driver retention in second place as drivers are often looking for greener pastures. Fleets can be their own worst enemies here when they pay a sign-on bonus, because a driver who’ll jump ship for a bonus will do it again and again, so the carriers are basically hiring their own turnover. This year it is said to be better than historically at 89 percent, a number that is quite staggering. But the all-time high was back in 2005 when it hit 136 percent.
Part of the issue is that carriers don’t understand the true cost of replacing a seasoned driver and places it at around $6,000. But James Reed, Chief Executive of USA Truck and a panelist at the Top 10 reveal said he thinks it is closer to $100,000 before the driver becomes an effective revenue earner in the new fleet.
Retention is not an issue for drivers, as they have jobs. Their number two grouse is with the still unsettled hours of service and the inflexibility that was introduced when the were rewritten back in 2003. There has been a little relaxation in the rules, but nothing like the drivers need to add flexibility to the bunk time which is a rigid 8 hours with an enforced additional two hours off duty during the day. Many drivers complain that they can be in the bunk totally unable to sleep, then they are super tired when the get back behind the wheel.
This has been aggravated by the mandated electronic logging device (ELD) that is now required in every commercial vehicle. It doesn’t allow the cheating that was part and parcel of paper log books. Fleets are aggravated at the timetable for ELD updates introduction and the foot dragging over the rules for changing from the previous on-board recorder rules, and rate this issue number 8 on the top 10.
Drivers just plain don’t like the fact that enforcement can see an accurate record any time they want and, besides, when a driver is out of hours, he is truly out of hours. They rate this as their number 4 issue. Ahead of this at number 3 and contributing to their dissatisfaction is the lack of truck parking which sees on and off ramps lined with parked trucks. This is also a dilemma for enforcement, because such parking is illegal, but what are you going to do if the logging device says the driver can’t move till he or she has taken 10 hours off duty.
Both groups agree that detention and delays at receiving docks are a big issue as is the foot dragging over infrastructure spending.
Infrastructure investment and traffic congestion have been a concern at the ATA’s American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) and it recently published a report that congestion costs American carriers $74.5 billion in additional costs or an average yearly. That’s a cost per truck of nearly six and a half thousand dollars in added operational costs each year.
The most staggering number of all was that in 2016, the latest year the calculation was made, the time lost in congestion is equivalent to 425,533 commercial truck drivers sitting idle for an entire working year. So if congestion could be somehow fixed through infrastructure investment in the United States, not only would carriers be way more profitable, but the driver shortage would also go away.