The growth of e-commerce could worsen the shortage of long-haul truckers as pickup-and-delivery jobs attract drivers who get to go home at night instead of living on the road for days or weeks at a time.
The potential driver shift is one of several findings in a new study from the American Transportation Research Institute. Large sections of the 49-page report focused on the so-called “Amazon effect.”
ATRI, the research arm of the American Trucking Associations, found possible e-commerce challenges related to nine of 10 issues on its 2018 list of Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry. It listed positives in five areas, including a better health outlook for pickup-and-delivery drivers who get in and out of their trucks more often.
“The trucking industry is in a unique position to adapt to and prosper from these consumer-driven trends as retailers become more reliant on their logistics partners,” ATRI said.
E-commerce is prompting logistics changes like the use of drop-and-hook trailers filled and waiting for pickup rather than a driver waiting for loading or unloading at a centralized warehouse. Hub-and-spoke logistics schemes place cargo closer to its final destination.
There were nearly 2,000 more courier and messenger businesses with 85,000 new employees in 2017 than in 2007, ATRI said.
The demand for delivery drivers could lure truckload drivers. That could add to an ATA-estimated shortage of 51,000 long-haul truckers. Despite higher wages in 2018, companies had a hard time retaining their drivers, as many chased signing bonuses at competitors.
The need for new long-haul drivers persists as more veteran drivers near retirement age.
Total freight hauled in 2018 was the highest in two decades, according to Bob Costello, ATA chief economist.
At the same time, trucking is becoming increasingly regional, meaning shorter, more frequent trips. The average length of haul was about 500 miles in 2018, down from 800 miles in 2000, ATRI said.
Orders for new tractor and trailers set records in 2018. Part of the reason was shippers added capacity to respond to fast-and-free delivery of online orders like Amazon promises its Prime service subscribers.