Drivers Debate Shortage Claims

There's no shortage of opinion about truck driver shortages. Some say they exist, some say they don't. Some say they're all about pay, while others cite demographics.

As a guest on the Evan Lockridge Report last week, I had the chance to hear what several truck drivers think about the issue. And they had a lot to say.

First off, trucking companies have no problem finding drivers right now.

But trucking executives, especially at truckload carriers, are concerned that tighter safety regulations and an increase in freight demand will shrink the pool of available drivers, driving up their costs and sapping some of the expected benefit of the recovery.

After trending down for the past few years, driver pay will go up, some executives said in recent interviews, as carriers compete for the remaining qualified drivers.

The truckers who called the Evan Lockridge Report weren't expecting either a driver shortage or an increase in driver pay -- though they would certainly welcome that.

As a whole, "we've been underpaid for years," one caller said on the Sirius Satellite Radio program.

And while they did think some drivers would be forced off the road by the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 initiative, they didn't all think that was a bad thing.

"I love CSA 2010," one driver said. "It's going to take a lot of bad people off the road."

That driver talked about his love for the job and commitment to doing it right -- and his disdain for those who don't. "A lot of the problems we've had over the past 10 to 20 years come from trucking companies hiring bad drivers to fill seats," he said.

If CSA 2010 shakes those bad apples from the branch, all the better, he said. "We're going to lose a lot of people who should never get behind a wheel."

That still might not lead to a shortage. Thousands of drivers who lost their jobs last year are presumably still looking for work. And there are other unemployed workers who might be willing to give trucking a try.

But some carriers might find it hard to find well-qualified drivers in a pinch, at least until new drivers are trained and gain experience.

Another caller put the onus squarely on the companies. "The trucking companies create shortages," he said, "by not doing enough to educate their drivers and investing in them."

Companies will put money into training sales people and IT staff, he said, but just expect drivers to get behind the wheel and, well, drive.

After several months, frustrated drivers pack up and leave for another company.

Companies need to invest and re-invest in drivers, provide continuing training and opportunities to advance, the caller said.

Pay was definitely an issue for these drivers. When the economy is booming, and wages are higher in other industries, truck drivers often give up the road for a thicker paycheck.

But one skeptical caller said he didn't expect any increase in pay even if the driver supply gets tighter, freight demand picks up and carriers are able to raise rates.

"I've been through this several times, and when rates go up, we don't see a share of the increase," he said. "CSA 2010 may make things safer, but I don't see my pay increasing."

Driver pay has been an issue for almost a century, as I noted in a March 1 story in the print edition of The Journal of Commerce.

In 1914, the Motor Truck Club of America said in an article that carriers "must expect to pay for the services of men who are worthy and are willing to promote the interests of their employers."

It was true then, and it's true today.

Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com

A March 1 report on the driver shortage issue, “Trucking’s Driver Dilemma,” is available to members online.

For the full story: Log In, Register for Free or Subscribe