Swelling freight volumes over the past year have put unprecedented pressure on transportation capacity globally, and domestic trucking has been no exception. Truck loadings are projected to rise 6% this year, according to FTR, and they’re projected to climb another 3.3% next year.
But climbing freight demand obviously isn’t the lone contributor to the record-tight capacity and supply shortages rolling through the economy. Slowdowns in truck and trailer manufacturing have limited fleets’ ability to add equipment at the pace they’d like to, as has the slowdown in employment participation rates throughout the economy.
Speaking in an FTR panel last week, Thom Albrecht, former Celadon executive and current Chief Revenue Officer at Reliance Partners put it this way: “The labor participation rate is barely 61%. Just a few years ago it was 67%, and I think it was 65%-ish pre-pandemic. We know that about 4 million women have chosen to not come back into the workforce for various reasons. Some of the Baby Boomers may have taken an early retirement. All of this probably touches trucking in one small way or another. The U.S. is probably facing the greatest labor challenge – I don’t want to say the word ‘shortage’ – in our lifetimes.”
Albrecht, who spoke alongside other panelists from firms like J.B. Hunt and Convoy, said finding ways to better utilize existing capacity is the key to solving the current capacity crunch and others that may loom in the future. That includes technology that streamlines drivers’ workflows and allows them to make more efficient use of available hours of service.
Supply chain disruptions have become such a mainstay in the COVID-era that the U.S. DOT has initiated a public comment period seeking input from freight and logistics stakeholders about the challenges and solutions in that sector of the economy.
Though trucking rates are red-hot to the supply and demand imbalance in the marketplace, the supply chain clogs are creating their own challenges for trucking companies financially. FedEx, for example, this week reported sagging revenues and earnings due to a huge upswing in costs associated with hiring drivers and disruptions in its ability to service customers’ freight.
Transflo’s Doug Schrier, Senior VP of Strategy, penned a column published in Fleet Owner this week that details the intersection trucking companies currently find themselves, including being sandwiched within the aforementioned capacity crunch.
“Competition and expectations have never been higher for motor carriers, with the supply chain demanding quicker and more efficient workflow, resiliency in the face of massive shifts in consumerism and technology, and the pressing need to do all of this in an environmentally sustainable way. Oh, and don’t forget you still have to turn a profit,” he writes.
The tools at motor carriers’ disposal are already available, he says — it’s just matter of adoption and integration. “Even gaining just five miles per day per driver, which may not sound like much at first blush, can allow a driver to earn about $1,400 more over the course of the year. And for a fleet with a few hundred trucks, that can add up to tens of thousands of extra miles a month,” he writes. Read the full column.
The mammoth infrastructure bill negotiations ongoing in Congress saw a notable setback for trucking last week, when a House panel advanced the chamber’s latest bill without any funds set aside to build out new truck parking.
The Senate’s infrastructure proposal, which passed the full Senate in August, likewise skipped on any money for truck parking. Earlier versions of both chambers’ bills included hundreds of millions, if not upwards of a billion dollars, dedicated for building truck parking capacity — a chief pain point noted annually by carriers and drivers.
In other regulatory news, President Joe Biden’s nominee to run the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the trucking and bus regulatory body under the U.S. Department of Transportation, testified in a confirmation hearing in front of a Senate committee on Sept. 22. Joshi has held the position of acting administrator since January. FMCSA has not had a permanent, Senate-approved administrator in nearly two years, since Ray Martinez left the post in October 2019.
Joshi’s nomination must be confirmed by a Senate majority vote for her to assume the position of FMCSA Administrator.