Driver Shortage Moves Beyond Truckload; Worst Yet to Come

September 9, 2014

By Deborah Lockridge

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Stifel's John Larkin says that the driver shortage is now affecting less-than-truckload, private fleets and other industry sectors. Photo: Southeastern Freight Lines.
Stifel's John Larkin says that the driver shortage is now affecting less-than-truckload, private fleets and other industry sectors. Photo: Southeastern Freight Lines.
Driver turnover, a problem that has traditionally plagued longhaul, irregular-route truckload fleets, is now affecting every type of fleet in the industry – and it's only going to get worse.

That's one of the takeaways from the annual "Shaking the Sand Out" overview of the transportation industry from Stifel Transportation & Logistics Equity Research.

"The big issue is drivers, drivers and drivers," said John Larkin, Stifel managing director, in the Monday morning conference call. "It's not clear there's any easy answer to this problem; it's not clear that taking driver pay up will solve the problem as you would think from Econ 101. So it's going to be very interesting to see how this develops, especially as FMCSA and other agencies make it more difficult for people to become drivers or for existing drivers to become more productive."

In fact, despite reports indicating very tight capacity, Larkin says the real driver-driven capacity crunch may come in the 2016-2017 time frame when the electronic log mandate is expected to go into effect, along with an expected regulation requiring speed limiters.

"It may be quite difficult for some companies that are not compliant to survive economically," Larkin said, "so that could be a big drag on capacity. The small carriers are certainly struggling, with older fleets, the regulatory burden, and stretched balance sheets."

Meanwhile, he said, the high-tech systems that large carrier operations are integrating into their operations are helping with productivity. "They're not only able to select the best load today, but also to look into the future and optimize production for a truck for its 7 or 10 day run," which is improving yield and reducing empty miles.

In the next decade, he said, longer combination vehicles and heavier trucks could help alleviate the driver problem, "if we can ever get over the hurdles in Washington. "And perhaps driverless trucks at some point may ultimately be the answer to the driver shortage. But that's 15, 20, 25 year away before any possibility of solving the driver shortage through the use of [that] technology."


  1. 1. Vern Bryce [ September 09, 2014 @ 04:55AM ]

    Really the only comment is someone soliciting their business? How about shippers and receivers treating drivers like humans or the dot to not treat drivers like a bunch of criminals that might be a real start. Think about it, how many other industries are there that expect their employees to go to the time clock and punch out and not get paid for their time every time they have to wait for someone else so they can do their job. Or loose a days pay because someone else didn't get the weight of their load distributed correctly. Or possibly even go to jail if you don't have the correct means to pay the fine. (Some DOT don't take credit cards) fix those few items and I'll bet that would be a step in the right direction.

  2. 2. Vern Bryce [ September 09, 2014 @ 05:01AM ]

    Really the only comment is someone soliciting their business? How about shippers and receivers treating drivers like humans or the dot to not treat drivers like a bunch of criminals that might be a real start. Think about it, how many other industries are there that expect their employees to go to the time clock and punch out and not get paid for their time every time they have to wait for someone else so they can do their job. Or loose a days pay because someone else didn't get the weight of their load distributed correctly. Or possibly even go to jail if you don't have the correct means to pay the fine. (Some DOT don't take credit cards) fix those few items and I'll bet that would be a step in the right direction.

  3. 3. Cliff Downing [ September 09, 2014 @ 05:02AM ]

    The law of unintended consequences is kicking in. The ATA, TCA, and others wanted to make a Faustian deal with government on a lot of levels, and the regulatory floodgate opened with its associated driver recruitment and retention problems. A common saying we had in the military decades ago... the time to realize you should have drained the swamp is not when you are up to your rear in alligators. Well, those that wanted to play paddy fingers with government are just going to have to learn to deal with the results. And they were so proud when they thought they were "leading" the way.

  4. 4. Wes Oye [ September 09, 2014 @ 05:02AM ]

    There is no driver shortage!!! There are the right number of drivers for the current market conditions. Would the CEO of McDonalds say there's a shortage of hamburger flippers? Everyone would laugh at him if he did because they all know how to create more hamburger flippers -- improve pay and working conditions.

  5. 5. Joao Reis Simoes [ September 09, 2014 @ 05:27AM ]

    I do not agree when the problema is put on the shoulders of drivers. The problema has to br solved with suitable choice and maintenance of the vehicles, competente use of the veicles, by the choise of tne suitable vehicle for each servisse, and ecodriving (it is necessary to teach drivers how to drive). I just wrote a book on that.

  6. 6. John Bazelewich [ September 09, 2014 @ 06:07AM ]

    Simple Answer-Rail-Rail-Rail !! It's so very wasteful to ship things across the county by truck. Rail carriers are constantly working to increase capacity, so why would you not but you long haul trailer on the rail, then you only have to hire local & drayage drivers for final delivery. Then most drivers would be home every night, and no more driver shortage. These long haul carriers need to look outside the box. It is so wasteful to pull a single 48 foot trailer from the east coast to the west coat with a tractor!!

  7. 7. Joe Richter [ September 09, 2014 @ 06:13AM ]

    Driver Shortage, no DUH!!! who would want to drive a truck for a living any longer? WE get treated like criminals, by every state we drive in, at every Pick up or delivery we make, especially at GROCERY WAREHOUSES, forced to sit for hours waiting to get loaded, or unloaded, and if you lucky enough to get detention pay, you have to prove that your times that you report, aren't LIES!! The new HOS regs are not restrictive, they are just plain STUPID. Until the Government gets down to the real problems in the industry, I hope there are nothing but Retirements, new job training opportunities, and empty trucks everywhere. The Government, the Mothers against Tired Truck drivers, the Insurance Lobbyist, and every other organization that knows nothing about driving a truck gets their nose out of our business, I see no other future, except driver shortages. after 35 years of driving for a living, being a once proud Owner-Operator, I have 2 years to go, which happens to coincide with these stupid On-Board Electronic Driver Logs, that some moron came up with, so I can tell the Government, the FMCSA, these unmoral thieves called "Professional Unloading Services" to all Kiss My Grits!! Good Luck Trucking Industry!!!

  8. 8. Jeff [ September 09, 2014 @ 06:35AM ]

    First the numbers for the shortage a misleading, the measure by the number of empty trucks in a fleets yard, many of which will not ever get filled. So if you want true numbers then fleets need to downsize, sell empty trucks that have sat for most of the year or longer. Take all the empties and now you will have better numbers. I do believer there is a driver shortage, but it's of good drivers, the schools are struggling to get classes filled. Why, this industry has no attraction to it anymore, pay being one of the items. I just read a report by the DOL that the average trucker pay is less than 35K, pretty sad. A driver should be paid in today's conditions for every minute he/she is in the truck. The driver needs to be respected, and get home for some real time off. Then filter down through loads, appointments and the shipper/receivers to do their part. All to many times do I still hear how drivers are sitting waiting for a load, or to get loaded or emptied. If any driver is sitting more than 24 hours for a load, shows we do NOT have a driver problem, we have a operational problems.

  9. 9. David [ September 09, 2014 @ 07:35AM ]

    I would love to see Rail try to move freight around the country. Rail could never give the capacity that trucks do, and for someone to think it could, well they are simply fooling themselves. The amount of infrastructure it would take to ship by rail would cause catastrophic failure to the rail industry. Besides, it takes 2-3 weeks to move freight from Michigan to Virginia via rail, trucks can move it overnight....duh!!!

  10. 10. dave [ September 09, 2014 @ 08:04AM ]

    Driver shortage, but of course I last drove in 2010. While working for 2 big company's for three months each which promised the miles home time and all th bull shit you hear . I know the rackett been in the business 20 years and yes for those who say you found a bad company that's crap . I qualified for food stamps and all the goody's making 41 cent a mile the miss management of the company's is huge friends of friends working for the company it self or better yet the great saying we are a family business with family values is bullshit. The family wants you to run your ass off for them to out after five and party with there friends and when you happen to be home and run in to them at the store they treat you like your a homeless guy on the corner trust me the driver storage is big but the company's have did it to them self finally TO ALL OF THE COMPANY PEOPLE READING THIS YOU HAVE ALL DONE YOUR SELF IN. YOU HAVE BURNT EVERY BRIDGE YOU HAD WITH DRIVERS AT LEASE THE OLDER EXPERIENCE ONE'S . YOU CAN LAUGH, CHUCKLE, AND THINK YOUR SMARTER THAN THAT AS YOU MAKE THE NEXT CALL TO A POSSIBLE RECUIRT OR DRIVERS TO FILL THE SEAT BUT THE WORLD IS ON TO YOU. YOU CAN MAKE FUN OF MY TYPING AND ENGLISH SKILLS IN THE LETTER. I DID IT JUST FOR YOU TO FEEL LIKE YOU HAD ME AT THE BEGINNING but you didnt HAVE A GREAT DAY

  11. 11. Big Yellower [ September 09, 2014 @ 08:27AM ]

    Rails are nice for 7 days transport west to east coast. But impractical for short distance an avg 120 freight train cars takes 8 hrs to offload and another 8 hrs to reload.. If more trains were used it would cause a bottleneck at either end since trains can't deliver to locations ..also most rail spurs in industrial areas have been removed due to non service by rail companies..

  12. 12. Jeff [ September 09, 2014 @ 09:32AM ]

    Dave is typical of drivers I talk to, I hire very seasoned drivers and I hear this all the time. You want new blood in the industry, you want good drivers to stay with you (retention, you know that word) then carriers have to change the way they operate, treat and pay drivers. Many carriers put on a mask when looking from the outside in, then when you get in the mask comes off. For many drivers they feel stuck and have to put up with whatever the carrier dishes out. Now mind what I say, some carriers, I don't mean all operate that way. Besides we know who you are.

  13. 13. kim [ September 09, 2014 @ 09:41AM ]

    What people need to understand is that they would have nothing if it wasn't for us truckers, but yet we get treated like crap. We get paid shitty, we are always waiting to be loaded or unloaded , we don't get much home time and all the rules in different states we have to try and remember so we don't get fined, and boy do they love to look for a reason to give us a fine that we can't afford and also gets put on our C.V.O.R which makes it hard to get work. The crap a driver has to deal with on a daily basis is unfair, no wonder there's a driver shortage, who wants to work in a industry that doesn't care. I wish I would've looked into this industry more before I became a driver cause I wouldve never done it. I hope that things change and drivers get the respect they deserve. The world would stop if there were no trucks on the road doing there job, people need think about that.

  14. 14. John Mullen [ September 09, 2014 @ 12:46PM ]

    Comments are all right on. Problem is Carrier reps will read them , pass them on to mngmt and carriers will continue business as usual. I have sent enough comments on the driver shortage and driver turnover in the past - appears that is a wasted effort. HOWEVER - what a choice subject, with all the video appeal , for a network expose. With 50 yrs in the industry, experience says there's nothing like publicity and the request for comments from the offenders to bring about change.
    Stay tuned .

  15. 15. Lee Lenard [ September 10, 2014 @ 08:18AM ]

    Good comment above. Jeff has very valid points. I have been Director of operations for couple nationwide carriers, Manager/Transp. Dir. for several private fleets and a special assignment a few years back with a prominent national carriers to reduce driver turn-over. I improved the rate but could obtain what the company wanted or where it should have been. Why? The internal management of the company! The ideals of Driver Mgrs, Load managers, Planning Mgrs, Vic Pres. Operations and others have to change to utilize drivers and help them to make money. Yes my research indicates that a large portion are @ or around $35,000 per year...not not acceptable. FMCSA is killing driver ability to manage and utilize time for proper rest as well as for earning a living. Company management does not get into the nitty gritty of this, they just want to assign loads. On newer drivers(less than 2 years driving) the company has to address driver's personal issues, work with that and sometime allow extra time for driver to handle. Training up front for new drivers is only "what it takes" to get them functional in the truck......there is way way more to it than that...just ask any veteran truck driver.

  16. 16. me [ September 10, 2014 @ 09:39AM ]

    I have the solution for companies needing OTR.... When I worked for xxxxxx we paid our private fleet driver $50,000 to $75,000 a year plus benefits, health, life, 401k etc. and we got BETTER ON TIME SERVICE to our customers, less freight claims and problems, we would lease the equipment, no freight payment headache, no personnel to audit all this mess…. And at the end of the day it was still better than have an OTR company quote the lane (low ball it) than fight to keep the service commitment to our customer when the sales rep would slither in and want more $$$$$ or pull his trucks….

  17. 17. me [ September 10, 2014 @ 09:41AM ]

    I have the cause of this I have worked for a few trucking companies, both big and small and it’s still the same. Most owners and their kids live like ROCK STARS, boats, driving a different car to work each day, 3 & 4 homes, jetting around charging back the company, allowing the company assets (Trucks & Trailers) to run over on any services or repairs, always telling us we have no $$$ as the son opens a used car lot LOL. Most of their employees (operation staff *not drivers) most do ok...than we have the drivers.....

  18. 18. me [ September 10, 2014 @ 09:42AM ]

    Why the driver shortage…. let’s see, when freight is flowing hard its 2000 to 2500 miles a week, if we did an average 2300 miles per week even at .50cents a mile is $1150.00 a week, than when freight backs off 1600 to 2000 miles a week, if we did an average 1700 miles at .50cents a mile is $ 850 a week. LOL Now for those in trucking know that no driver is getting .50 cents per mile … more like .40 cents that’s not really a lot of $$$ to be out on the road for 2 weeks at a time in a 8 by 8 foot box …. Be woke up and asked/told to drive at 2am. PEOPLE they are driving every 10 hours once the break is over no matter what time of day it is. Or when freight cancels and you sit in the Wal-Mart parking lot for two days waiting on your next load. I like to see you do these 2 weeks at a time that go home for two days off LOL keep in mind it’s not a 5pm when you go home… it could be Saturday @ 3pm ….. You get 2 days off! that's why the shortage!

  19. 19. me [ September 10, 2014 @ 09:43AM ]

    they say the right driver screening can help find and keep the cream of the crop. that's BS... its a pay and home-time thing and it will always be this. The solution that needs to happen….. If a truck runs avg 2000 miles a week, the breakeven point with paying the driver, expenses on truck and operational staff and overhead is about $4850 per week +/- this would be like a small company 60 trucks on the road. That’s $291,000 a week and about 16 million a year. At one of the companies I worked for this would be paying the driver .33 cents a mile ….head count at this company 13 office 2 salesmen 1 bean counter 3 shop guys and the owner so 20 workers If you paid the 20 workers all $100,000 that’s only $ 2,000,000 they don’t it’s about $35,000 to $50,000 If you paid the 60 drivers $60,000 each that’s only $3,600,000 they don’t most drivers gross about $38,000 to $42,000 Rent $1,200,000 a year GOV BS $1,100,000 a year INS misc. $1,100,000 a year Fuel and whatever I missed $3,000,000 Buying new trucks $1,000,000 a year That only $13,000,000 out of $16,000,000 still have over $3,000,000 left

  20. 20. me [ September 10, 2014 @ 09:45AM ]

    Driving is one of the toughest jobs out there….. 2 weeks out on the road than home for 2 days is laughable and for $40,000 a year … I am really shocked this has not stop trucking in its tracks, go to craigslist in your hometown and see some of the desperate ads put out by OTR companies promising a ROCK STAR life..... its simple pay the driver $50,000 per year flat rate.... with big brother in the truck now... soon to be your car, your unable to run like they did in the past. In a single day of driving, now I am sure you want BigJoe to park the truck while eating and bathroom...right... so in a single day at best 600 miles is it with all the new laws and big brother computer logging it all..... so paying the driver by the mile in todays trucking world just don't make sense.

  21. 21. Former Driver [ September 11, 2014 @ 01:46PM ]

    I agree with "me" on salary. Our company does just that for our OTR drivers. Weekly salary can be $1000-$1200 week, DOE. Everyone benefits starting with the driver and a consistent and predictable paycheck every week.

  22. 22. Stewart White [ September 13, 2014 @ 08:07AM ]

    Driver turnover isn't a problem in the trucking industry; it is a common business model. Stratospheric executive salaries depend on whopping profits that are guaranteed by an underclass of underpaid and overworked drivers who have become trapped in "the system." The same thing happened in the textile industry in the late 1800's and early 1900's, in the Northeast. And, of course, our famous agricultural slavery system is yet another example. There are many others

    Neither driver happiness nor satisfaction contribute to a company's bottom line and executive bonuses. Driver rest and time at home represent an underutilized resource because, in both cases, the rig's wheels aren't turning. The simple fact is that a driver is an expendable resource.

  23. 23. Richard [ September 13, 2014 @ 11:01AM ]

    I agree there is a driver shortage. I own a small trucking company in the midwest. (10 trucks) We are a dedicated carrier for 10 years now. We are 90% short haul (300 miles round trip) with dedicated lanes. A driver can make anywhere from 50-75K a year and be home nightly 5 out of 6 days. Its not hard work but I expect the drivers to work hard so they can be home more. Guess what? I can't find qualified drivers!!!!!!!
    As for drivers being treated the way some say they are, Take a look around in the truck stops. I hire businessmen and women, NOT people that drive a truck in sweat pants and dirty T shits that haven't been washed for days, People are a lot like cars, you can take an old wore out rusted up car and keep it cleaned up and its still presentable, OR you can let it go and not take care of it, and you will have nothing but a rusted up old beat up car that looks horrible. Drivers would get a lot more respect if they would present themselves as businessmen and women, that's what they are. Get away from the stigma of a "truck driver". I am a businessman that drives a truck, not a truck driver.

  24. 24. J Tonko [ October 01, 2014 @ 01:28PM ]

    There is no mystery. Long hours and low pay. Carriers and shippers simply don't want to pony up. Last year Walmart received 13,000 applications for 380 truck driver position available. Why? They average $72,000 annually. No shortage! No mystery!


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