We’re nearly halfway through 2019, so I asked HDT’s Editorial Advisory Board what current trends and issues are most on their minds. I’ve left out the attributions on the following comments so everyone would feel free to speak their mind.
We’ve started to see terms like “bloodbath” being thrown around in the general and business investment media when it comes to trucking rates. As Business Insider reported recently, “After a raucous 2018, 2019 has seen retailers and manufacturers moving less, according to the Cass Freight Index. Freight rates have dipped year over year for six months straight. Loads on the spot market, in which retailers and manufacturers buy trucking capacity as they need it rather than through a contract, have fallen by a chilling 62.6% in May year over year. And that means rates have dipped for independent truckers as well as major companies. Rates for van loads sank 20% in May year over year, according to DAT.”
While some people point out that comparing rates to the highs of last year might not really be a fair comparison, our advisory board members were definitely concerned:
“One that really troubles me is why rates are still so low after the two best years we have seen in trucking in four decades.”
“Low rates despite increasing costs (higher prices of trucks, trailers, parts, insurance, drivers, etc.); pressure from customers to sign agreements locking in low rates for two to three years, when we don't know where rates will be in the next six months.”
“Low rates, and brokers taking advantage of truckers!”
Capacity may have loosened somewhat, but drivers are still very much an issue.
According to the National Transportation Institute’s first-quarter figures, fleets are offering fewer drivers wage increases in the first quarter of 2019 when compared to last year but the increases that are being instituted are substantial.
Here’s what one member of our advisory board said:
“It is becoming even more difficult to find drivers to apply for driving jobs. We are a private fleet that pays really well, with great health insurance and other really nice benefits, but cannot get serious candidates. I find that a lot of drivers have no idea who to trust these days. I hear more and more that when drivers see what we pay and what our benefits are that they believe it is not true, because they have been lied to so much by people that get paid to hire drivers. These people are doing and saying anything to get drivers in the door.”
3. Regulations, especially hours of service
FMCSA said they would have a proposal out for HOS revisions this month, but we haven’t seen it yet. (It's been sitting in the White House Office of Management and Budget since late March.) Meanwhile, politicians are getting involved. The proposed House appropriations bill, for instance, would prohibit the agency from dropping the 30-minute break rule. And the push to allow 18- to 21-year-olds to operate in interstate commerce has the support of some in the industry but not others.
“There are many that want the HOS changed to allow the split sleeper, yet many have not yet learned to deal with the current HOS.”
Then there’s the electronic logging device mandate. There’s still a lot of confusion as we barrel toward this December’s deadline for even fleets that were grandfathered because they were using automatic onboard electronic recording devices (AOBRDs) to have the devices. “The ELD mandate is here, but does anyone know what all the rules are yet?”
Also on the horizon are new entry-level driver training rules and changes in the works to CSA.
The headlines are full of articles, both in trucking publications and the mainstream media, about electric trucks, artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced safety systems, and autonomous trucks, and it’s definitely something our advisory board is keeping their eye on.
“I know electric cars and trucks are coming with the investments manufacturers are putting into it, but where are we with infrastructure to be able to charge them, and when a battery pack is done, what do we do with the old battery pack?”
“With all the safety and technological advancements with trucks, are drivers being trained on these advancements?”
5. Equipment and Maintenance
Despite all the new tech on the horizon, fleet managers still have to think about their equipment now and in the near future, whether it’s spec’ing or maintaining it.
“Truck specs and why they are so important in return on investment, and owning and operating costs.”
“Educating mechanics on why their actions are so important and how the execution of those actions drives cost down.”
“Condition-based maintenance, why it is so important, verses an arbitrary mile or hour of use.”
“It is getting more and more difficult to get trucks repaired on the road in a timely manner. Sometimes it is days before you can get in just to find out what is wrong, then more days pass waiting on parts.”
Several other concerns were mentioned by advisory board members:
- The truck parking shortage. “Free parking at trucks stops is being replaced with paid parking unless you purchase fuel there. More and more truck stops are going this route.” In fact, a blog post from a year ago about paying for truck parking has recently popped back up among our top 10 most visited stories.
- Trade and tariffs: “Still uncertainty of our customers and changing of their business models.”
- Rising insurance costs
What about you? What’s your fleet’s main concern for the rest of 2019?