Driver availability will be the No. 1 issue affecting our industry in 2012. The recent recession brought large numbers of fleet failures and restructuring.
The general consensus is that capacity had shrunk at least 15 percent by the end of 2009. In addition, demographic trends don’t bode well for the “traditional” truck driver. Many companies won’t lease/hire a driver under the age of 23 and without multiple years of experience. New drivers can’t wait around for a driving job. The average age of a truck driver is 55 and nearing retirement.
The ever-increasing regulatory burdens placed on the industry, in particular the the Comprehensive Safety Analysis program, hours-of-service and the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, have discouraged drivers from continuing in their chosen profession. These problems are exacerbated by a highway infrastructure that is underfunded and not keeping up with traffic growth, causing unnecessary delays for a work force largely paid by the mile. Attracting and retaining drivers in this environment will be a major challenge.
The second issue will be the regulatory and enforcement climate. Clean-ports programs funded by the Teamsters, along with the union’s push for employee classification to eliminate the owner-operator and the need for cities and states to raise revenue will lead to overzealous enforcement of the International Fuel Tax Agreement, the International Registration Plan and roadside citations, adding a new layer of costs on the trucking industry.
The industry and the country should welcome new governments focused on fiscal responsibility and a regulatory climate that recognizes the job creators, which our industry clearly is. (The help-wanted section of any newspaper includes many openings for nurses and truck drivers.) The trucking industry should be recognized as a force that can help the country out of its jobs malaise, and stop burdening it with more regulations and higher costs.