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Driver shortage, HOS rules top ATRI list of industry concerns

THE American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) unveiled its annual Top Industry Issues report, which includes the top 10 issues in North American trucking, during the recent American Trucking Associations (ATA) Management Conference and Exhibition in San Diego CA.

For the third consecutive year, ATRI said, the driver shortage is the top-ranked issue for trucking fleets as they struggle to recruit and retain qualified drivers. Hours-of-service (HOS) rules held onto the Number 2 spot in the survey for the second year, reflecting the industry’s call for additional flexibility in the rules, particularly the sleeper berth provision.

“While 2018 was an incredible year for trucking, we’ve seen some challenges in 2019 and certainly finding and retaining qualified drivers remains at the top of the list for our industry,” said Barry Pottle, ATA chairman and president, and CEO of Pottle’s Transportation. “ATRI’s analysis reveals the interconnectedness of these top issues and provides a roadmap for how motor carriers and professional drivers believe we should move forward as an industry.”

Two new issues that also impact the industry’s ability to recruit and retain qualified drivers appeared on this year’s list for the first time: driver compensation, and detention/delay at customer facilities.

Driver compensation ranked third overall and represents two sides to a complex issue—motor carriers who have raised driver pay significantly over the past year in response to the driver shortage and drivers who are concerned that their pay has not kept pace with inflation. Driver detention at customer facilities, making its debut at No. 4, reflects growing concern over excessive delays that create cascading impacts for drivers’ HOS compliance, compensation, and ability to find safe, available truck parking.

The lack of available truck parking rounds out the top five issues on this year’s list but ranks third among commercial driver respondents after compensation and HOS rules. Driver retention; the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate; compliance, safety and accountability (CSA) scores; transportation infrastructure/congestion/funding; and the economy complete the top 10 issues.

1. Driver shortage

According to the report, as the industry struggles to recruit and retain drivers, ATA’s most recent estimates indicate more than 60,000 drivers are needed, with a potential shortfall of more than 100,000 drivers in the next five years. ATRI says the driver shortage is particularly acute in the over-the-road truckload segment, and, despite a softer freight market in 2019, demand for qualified drivers still is high and fleets are taking many approaches to mitigating challenges in recruiting.

ATRI’s proposed strategies for combating the driver shortage include advocating for federal agencies to develop an apprenticeship program that helps attract, train and retain younger interstate drivers; identifying ways to expand recruitment of women and minorities; and collecting and comparing safety performance data of drivers 18 to 20 years old vs drivers 21 to 24 years old who operate commercial vehicles interstate.

2. Hours of service

HOS rules are a top-three issue for the ninth consecutive year, ATRI said. In August 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on HOS rules asking for comments on several provisions, including the 30-minute rest break, and a year later FMCSA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking with changes based on public comment and available research. The proposed rule includes flexibility in the sleeper berth provision that would allow drivers to split off-duty time into an eight- and two-hour, or seven- and three-hour, split, with neither counting against the 14-hour driving window.

ATRI’s proposed strategies include continuing to push for increased flexibility in the current sleeper berth provision, researching and quantifying the impact of the 30-minute rest break requirement on truck parking shortages, and analyzing how HOS rules might be modified for highly automated trucks.

3. Driver compensation

Driver compensation’s debut in the top 10 likely is due to the fact that fleets are responding to the driver shortage by increasing driver pay, ATRI said. Also, it seems different models for compensation are expanding to include salary-plus, per-load and percentage-of-load. While drivers are benefiting from increases, concern persists that driver compensation is not keeping pace with inflation, and drivers are not adequately compensated for non-driving duties.

ATRI’s proposed strategies include analyzing truck driver compensation in relation to other competing sectors, researching relationships between compensation models, and driver satisfaction and productivity, and researching and assessing the effectiveness of carrier retention programs that financially incentivize driver performance in safety, fuel economy and trip productivity.

4. Detention/delay at customer facilities

The many impacts of excessive customer detention connect to other issues in the top 10, ATRI said, including HOS, driver compensation and truck parking. In a recent ATRI study quantifying detention impacts, drivers reported a 27.4% increase in delays of six or more hours between 2014 and 2018. The cascading impacts of these types of delays affect a driver’s ability to make money, comply with HOS rules, and find authorized parking during on-duty hours.

ATRI’s proposed strategies include researching the safety and economic impacts of customer detention on truck drivers and trucking operations, quantifying impacts on detention times that have occurred since the ELD mandate, and examining the potential for creation of a “Shipper of Choice” database to reduce detention times for carriers and drivers.

5. Truck parking

A lack of available truck parking creates a dangerous and costly dilemma for truck drivers who are forced to drive beyond allowable HOS rules or park in undesignated and potentially unsafe locations, ATRI maintained.

ATRI’s proposed strategies include identifying strategic locations on the National Freight Network for new or expanded truck parking due to increased traffic congestion, staging needs and regulatory changes; creating a new federal funding program designed to increase truck parking capacity and freight-critical locations; and researching the role and value of real-time truck parking information and reservation systems.

6. Driver retention

While 2018 gave rise to high driver turnover, this year’s softer freight market created a mixed picture of the truck driver market, ATRI said, resulting in the issue falling three spots in this year’s top 10. Driver pay increases also helped fleets attract and retain qualified drivers, contributing to reduced turnover rates.

ATRI’s proposed strategies for further improving retention include researching and prioritizing retention strategies based on driver feedback and tenure data, quantifying the relationship between safety technology deployment and driver satisfaction and retention, and creating an online compendium of retention strategies and best practices, customizable by carrier fleet size and sector.

7. ELD mandate

This issue continues to drop in ranking, from No. 1 in 2016 to seventh this year. Following full implementation in December 2017, the industry’s attention now is focused on the approaching deadline for fleets to transition from AOBRDs to ELDs on Dec 16, ATRI said. The institute uncovered concern that supply chains could experience productivity declines as fleets make the transition, with many waiting until the last minute.

ATRI’s proposed strategies include researching and quantifying industry impacts of full ELD deployment on safety and productivity, assessing the extent and impact of the rising number of ELD exemption requests, and evaluating the landscape of appropriate and inappropriate uses of newly available ELD data.

8. CSA

This is the lowest ranking for CSA since the issue first appeared on the list of industry concerns in 2010, ATRI said. FMCSA in August announced plans to permanently install its Crash Preventability Determination Program, which carriers use to remove non-preventable crashes from their CSA Crash BASIC score calculation. However, the industry still is waiting to fully understand how CSA will perform under the Item Response Theory (IRT) model as proposed in the National Academies of Sciences report issued in June 2017.

ATRI’s proposed strategies include advocating for FMCSA to expand the list of crash types available for review and reclassification as non-preventable as part of the federal crash accountability program, advocating for CSA score reductions in existing BASICs rather than a new BASIC for carriers who choose to participate in FMCSA’s Beyond Compliance program, and working with FMCSA to ensure National Academies of Sciences recommendations are successfully implemented.

9. Transportation infrastructure/congestion/funding

According to ATA’s American Trucking Trends 2019, the trucking industry hauls 71.4% of the nation’s freight tonnage and 80.3% of freight revenues on the nation’s roadway infrastructure. Poorly maintained roads and traffic congestion wear out vehicles, waste fuel, increase emissions, create additional stresses and negatively impact productivity, ATRI said. The institute’s research indicates congestion-related delays increased trucking’s fuel consumption by 6.87 billion gallons in 2016, adding $15.7 billion to its fuel bill.

ATRI’s proposed strategies include continuing to advocate for long-term highway funding through an increase in the fuel tax or other direct user fees, creating a new funding program to focus federal resources on truck bottlenecks along major freight corridors, and increasing funding for federal-aid highway programs that focus on funding highways with significant freight volumes.

10. Economy

The US economy reemerged as a top-10 industry issue last year. Now the industry is facing a softer freight market, an ongoing trade war and a delay in ratifying the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to replace NAFTA. More recently, drone strikes on Saudi Arabian oil facilities have raised concern over fuel prices, which would negatively affect trucking, where fuel represents 22% of operating costs, ATRI said.

ATRI’s proposed strategies include advocating for reforming/repealing ineffective regulations that add to industry costs without providing benefits, continuing to advocate for trade and economic policies that will stimulate the economy, and researching the impact that volatility in trucking capacity has on fleets.

The complete results of the annual survey, which generated more than 2,000 responses from motor carriers and commercial drivers, are available at truckingresearch.org.

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