Finding truck drivers, especially as the current group ages and more people are reluctant to spend time from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the trucking industry’s biggest challenge.
That’s the finding of the latest annual American Transportation Research Institute survey of the biggest issues facing the industry.
Motor carrier chief executives also echo the same problem as they report third-quarter financial results to industry analysts and investors.
Trucking rates are going up because the industry can’t find enough drivers to meet freight demand.
“The primary culprit seems to be the ongoing dilemma of the driver shortage, exasperated by the impact of COVID-19. Drivers are more reluctant to be away from home for extended periods of time, and the funnel of new drivers coming into the industry has slowed,” David Menzel, chief operating officer of Echo Global Logistics Inc., said in an Oct. 28 conference call with investors and analysts.
“In some markets throughout the quarter, we struggled to find drivers, and most of that’s pandemic related. And whether it’s a linehaul driver here or there, city drivers calling off because of the coronavirus, we found that the need was greater this year,” Douglas Col, chief financial officer of SAIA Inc. said in an Oct. 29 call with investors and analysts.
Some motor carriers are figuring out to hire drivers, often by poach from competitors.
“We are having success hiring drivers, but it is a little harder to onboard people than it used to be because of the pandemic. We are not getting record checks back as quickly as we used to. We are still able to hire from competitors,” said Greg Gantt, chief executive of Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., in an Oct. 27 conference call with industry analysts.
This is the fourth consecutive year when industry executives surveyed named the driver shortage as the top industry issue. Motor carriers named driver retention as their number two issue, while the overall industry placed it sixth on the ATRI top concerns list.
But there were other issues, too, including truck parking, driver compensation and retention, and for the first time since 2005, insurance costs.
“2020 has been a tremendously challenging one for our industry and our country, but as ATRI’s survey lays out, there are a number of issues we must address in addition to the ones put in front of us by this pandemic,” said Randy Guillot, chief executive of Southeastern Motor Freight and Triple G Express Inc. and president of the American Trucking Associations.
“From finding and keeping qualified drivers to the increased costs of insurance and burdens imposed on our industry by unwarranted lawsuits, ATRI has identified the issues our industry cares most about,” Guillot said.
In all, ATRI received responses from 3,122 truck drivers, motor carriers, and other industry stakeholders – a record for the 16-year-old survey.
“Having such a robust sample gives us a very accurate picture of what issues are of most concern to the trucking industry,” said Rebecca Brewster, ATRI’s president and COO. “With this information, the industry can best target its resources to address trucking’s concerns.”
The cost of insurance cost and its availability is a growing concern, ranking fifth. Likewise, tort reform that could reduce large judgments against motor carriers made the survey’s top 10 for the first time since 2011 at seventh.
“The impacts of litigation and growth of nuclear verdicts in the trucking industry was really apparent in this year’s list of concerns,” Brewster said. “Earlier this year, ATRI quantified the growth in nuclear verdicts in the trucking industry, but even without that critical research, the fact that tort reform and insurance issues have resurfaced in the survey are a clear sign the industry is being impacted by rising costs related to litigation and insurance.”
Driver compensation ranked second on the list of concerns as companies have to increase wages to attract and retain truckers.
Truck parking was third and among the top concerns of truckers responding to the survey. Recent rules that more effectively limit how long truckers can drive daily increase the need for safe parking.
Dealing with compliance, safety and accountability regulations was fourth. Insurance cost and availability ranked fifth.