Industry Opinion: How Many Drivers Do We Really Need?

2012 Federal Regulation Transportation

Heavy Duty Trucking Magazine Opinion ColumnThis is part of an opinion column by Jim Park, the Equipment Section Editor at Heavy Duty Trucking. The link to the full column is at the bottom.

How Many Truck Drivers Do We Really Need?

Do we really have a shortage of truck drivers in this country or are we simply adding up the empty seats across the land and calling that under-utilized capacity a driver short-age?

The very first indicator of a shortage — any shortage — is a cost increase. Hay is currently in high demand across much of the Midwest because of drought conditions, and prices are going through the roof. Several years ago, when a good portion of the world’s wheat production was diverted to biofuel feedstock, the cost of pasta, beer, and other grain-based products skyrocketed. Kraft Dinner jumped in my grocery store from five boxes for a buck to four boxes for three dollars.

In early 2007, Mexican consumers faced a tortilla crisis; prices tripled and riots ensued. A beer panic hit Germany later that year as prices of the golden brew soared — partly due to biofuel diversion.

That’s what happens when you have a shortage, or the threat of a genuine and pending shortage. One could hardly call what’s happening in trucking a crisis.

Shippers are watching the situation. Analysts are warning of potentially higher prices at the grocery stores. Truckload fleets are upping driver pay by a penny a mile here and a dollar a day there. Rates are more or less stagnant, store shelves re-main fully stocked, and only the worst paying freight is slow to move. By any of the usual economic indicators, we are in no imminent danger of a driver shortage or a capacity crisis.

I think the problem is actually too many trucks, not too few drivers.

I believe the problem is actually just a numbers game. Fleets have unseated trucks, they can’t hire drivers to fill those trucks, therefore there’s a shortage. That however, contradicts established economic wisdom — as outlined above.

Here’s what I think is actually happening. Read more at Trucking Info online, in the Equipment section.