Driver shortage ‘very, very real’

National Trailer Dealers Association 2014 convention report

THE driver shortage is “very, very real” and is a key component in the capacity crunch in the trucking industry, according to Bill Graves, president/CEO of the American Trucking Associations.

Graves said these are the primary causes of the shortage, based on what the ATA is seeing and hearing:

•  Changing demographics.

•  Difficulty capturing the 18-21 age group. “Because they’re not eligible for a CDL. A lot of times somebody graduates from high school and isn’t going to college enters the workforce, but trucking is not an option for them at that age.”

•  Competition from other industries. “The construction business is our main competitor.”

•  Driver pay/congestion/HOS. “They all fit together. Even with all that congestion on the nation’s highways, in our industry the normal pay package is by the mile—how many miles the wheels turn equates to how much they’re paid. People don’t get to move as far because they’re stuck so much in traffic. HOS actually took a hit in terms of productivity and some of the limitations placed on our drivers.”

•  Electronic logging. “As funny as it sounds, when electronic logging rolled through the industry, there were a lot of older folks that said, ‘That’s it. That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m not going to mess with this Big Brother watching me each and every day.’ ”

•  Health/medical registry/sleep apnea. “There’s a new medical registry set up. It used to be that when you had to go in and get a medical certificate, if your Uncle Fred was a physician, you’d just see Uncle Fred and he’d say, ‘You look good,’ and sign the deal. Now CSA has a list of doctors authorized to do it. It means that guys and gals that passed before can no longer pass.”

•  CSA. “It has really upped the bar as far as safety and the performance of fleets and drivers, and some people are simply not up to meeting that standard.”

He said TL carriers are struggling with independent contractors as well as company drivers.

Bill Graves, American Trucking Associations

“For small truckloads, they were struggling with the economy and have a tough road to begin with,” he said. “The most important ones are large truckload carriers who were using pretty consistently the same number of independent contractors to support their efforts all the way along. In the middle of 2013, there was a precipitous drop that corresponds with the new Hours of Service rule that was put into place. That was a moment where people in the industry said, ‘That’s it. It’s too tough to make a living. It’s too tough to get miles in and be productive, so we’re going to exit the industry.’ And we think the pool of independent contractors is getting a little small as well.”

His list of the biggest current issues:

•  Hours of Service. “It’s a problem for us and we’re trying to fix it. We worked with Congress and got as far as we could. Congress basically adjourned and went home and couldn’t get work done on the appropriations bill. We’re going to continue to hammer away to get a more responsible correction to HOS rule.”

•  Insurance limits. “Very shortly FMCSA is going to issue findings on whether or not we need to increase insurance limits. That will be another cost driver.”

•  Hair testing. “A lot of people are looking at whether certain rules and procedures for drug and alcohol testing are appropriate. If we adopt hair testing, it will be a more complete and thorough way to test, but it’s also more expensive.”

•  Twin 33-foot trailers. “We will get Congressional permission sooner or later—and I think it will be sooner—to expand the length of 28-foot pups five feet and make it into a 33-foot trailer. It’s a small slice of the industry, but it will give them 10 feet of cube available as opposed to the current 56 feet they have on twin 28s. That is probably the only productivity enhancement I feel the industry has a chance at. The issue of 97,000 pounds, or whatever the combination might be, is not getting a positive reception on Capitol Hill. So a lot of effort is going into 33-foot pups, so there’s something we can point to where we are more productive, use less fuel, and make better utilization of the driver and tractor.”

•  Driver pay. “This administration has made a huge push on what earnings are and what the quality of life is for middle-income and low-income Americans. They actually are messing around with the idea of getting into regulating how this industry compensates drivers. We will fight that. We don’t want the government telling us how to compensate.”

•  Electronic logging devices. “There’s a proposed rule in the fall of 2015. We have too many people out there violating the speed limit and creating problems on Capitol Hill. Every time I go into someone’s office and want to talk about tax policy or an environmental issue, the first thing I have to do is listen to a story of the most recent tragic accident that happened in somebody’s district, and they’re wondering why the trucking industry is not more committed to safety.”

Graves said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is working closely with SmartWay, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) voluntary government program, on new rulemaking for tractors and trailers in the spring of 2015, and the impact of Phase 2 is unknown.

“The first round involved just tractors and engines,” he said. “The second round, they’re going to include trailers. We met with the EPA a few weeks ago, and trailers will definitely be a part of the calculation on the fuel efficiency of the unit as it moves down the road. So if you are involved in designing trailers or the aerodynamic handling of all the different skirts and things involved in making trailers a more fuel-efficient piece of the unit, all of those are going to become much more important for the trailer industry than they ever have been before. It’s also going to raise the bar for people building tractors and for those in the engine-building business. So pay attention and keep an eye on the developments.

“We don’t know exactly when the dates are going to be for when the regulations are going into effect. If there is a price point associated with buying that new fuel-efficient equipment, a lot of people will say it’s just like in 2007, when there was a huge pre-buy and everybody said, ‘We’re going to buy stuff before we get into the more expensivegovernment-regulated equipment’. We could have another situation with tractors and even perhaps with trailers before the implementation of this second stage of fuel-efficiency standards.” ♦

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