The trucking industry is on the verge of a crisis as companies face large gaps in driver numbers. Large swathes of drivers are starting to retire and COVID-19 is taking its toll on the industry.
The most recent census revealed that there are around 3.5 million truck drivers in the US. However, with less than 1% of the population transporting almost 70% of all freight around the country, truckers are still in demand and face a crisis in numbers, with the COVID-19 pandemic adding insult to injury.
Experts and those heavily involved in the industry have demonstrated understandable concern.
President and CEO of PA Motor Truck Association Rebecca Olyer highlighted how the problem has been exacerbated over recent years.
“The shortage was pre-existing to the pandemic but the pandemic really made things worse for a couple of reasons,” she said.
“One, we didn’t have as much testing and education last year so if drivers weren’t getting their CDL licenses, so we had that going on at the same time drivers were leaving the industry because the average age of a commercial truck driver is 55 so a lot of them were at high risk and they left temporarily and maybe they didn’t come back right away. Those two things combined last year to really exacerbate the existing driver shortage,” Olyer continued.
She added that there is a “lot of pressure and part of that is because the labor market is so tight there are a lot of folks who otherwise might go into truck driving that are finding opportunities elsewhere, in construction, for example.”
What issues is this causing?
The shortage is causing several issues within the country. Most notably, a lack of truck drivers is causing problems with getting fuel to gas stations. Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, said that this is likely to cause issues at smaller gas stations.
“This is king of a survival of the fittest, and those truckers that are delivering for third parties, they may find it more lucrative to go somewhere else and deliver gasoline, so there’s kind of this fighting going on with the truck drivers that do exist,” he said.
Producer prices for truck transportation are also up by 10% compared to last year, having a huge impact on the affordability of farming and transportation of procude.
How can it be resolved?
Stresses in the industry have caused panic, with truck firms looking to pay large bonuses, increasing salaries and changing routes to make driver jobs appear more attractive to young potential employees. Some truckers have been offered six figure salaries in an attempt to fill the driver shortage.
However, this does not seem to have worked as well as initially thought.
“I think it’s on the verge of a crisis. I think this is probably one of the worst times that we have seen for recruiting truck drivers,” Olyer said. “There is a lot of pressure and part of that is because the labor market is so tight there are lots of folks who otherwise might go into truck driving that are finding opportunities elsewhere in construction for example.”
As a result, it is possible that it will not be until the industry starts a full transition to driverless trucks that this void of driver numbers will be filled.