Speakers at the ALK Transportation Technology Summit in Princeton, N.J., last month pointed to better days ahead for the trucking industry, but addressed some of the challenges carriers will face in the next few years to come.

Manufacturing is picking up, consumer spending is recovering, and projections call for continued increases into 2011, according to keynote speaker Paul Will, vice chairman and chief financial officer for Celadon Group.

While some signs are positive, Will pointed out economic activity is substantially below its pre-recession levels. "We have a new baseline," he said. "We're growing from that."

Tim Bickmore, executive vice president at TransCore, reported that "the spot trucking market has turned strongly in favor of carriers this year." According to Bickmore, the spot market accounts for 15 to 20 percent of the entire trucking market. At last year's Summit Bickmore reported that the load-to-truck ratio had fallen to 0.6 loads for each available truck, but the load-to-truck ratio has swung to five loads for each available truck, he said.

During the event's Truckload Roundtable, Kevin Burch, president and CEO of Jet Express, focused on a renewed driver shortage. The average age of drivers in the industry is 47, he noted, and the average at his own company is 58.

"It's time to get recruitment and retention efforts back in gear," he said. "There is a 'perfect storm' brewing again."

The event also featured an LTL Roundtable and Shipper, Private Fleet & 3PL Roundtable, which were led by Steve O'Kane, president of A. Duie Pyle, and Robert Voltman, president and CEO of the Transportation Intermediaries Association, respectively.

Technology Challenges

Other challenges addressed at the Summit included routing and toll management. According to Dr. Alain Kornhauser, founder and chairman of ALK Technologies, ALK is working on accurate dock-to-dock routing that avoids traffic delays by using both real-time and historic traffic data, including predictable slowdowns on specific routes. "There are many ways to get from A to B," he said. "Now we're trying to figure out how long it's going to take you to get from A to B."

Cindy Nelson, vice president, marketing and business development for EBE Technologies, described an automated toll management solution from EBE and ALK that links precise toll costs with data from trucking operations software. She said fleets can verify that trucks actually traveled the roads where tolls were charged and that the amounts charged are correct.

Mike Gabbei, CIO for Celadon Group, said that using PC*MILER|Tolls' new toll plaza designations in a test group of 180 trucks was working well. "Working with ALK and Manhattan Associates, we expect to put toll transponders on the entire fleet," he said. "Along with the transponder discounts, we expect to see a $750,000 savings."

"Empty miles can be the difference between profit and loss," said David McKinney, vice president, professional services for TMW Systems." "But deadheading must be addressed from a big-picture perspective, factoring in such things as operational requirements, regulatory restrictions, and the ratio of equipment to available loads in any geographic area."

Co-presenter Murry Fitzer, CEO of Florilli Transportation, a refrigerated truckload carrier, said Florilli uses TMW's planning optimization. "I can check the deadhead report daily," he said. "I get insight that's better than looking at a weekly report."

For more information about the event, visit www.alk.com/techsummit2010.