ARLINGTON, VA. — While all modes of transportation are expected to grow over the next 10 years, truck and rail freight market share are expected to decline slightly with the slack picked up by pipelines.
That was the message from Jon Samson, executive director of the agricultural and food transporters conference of the American Trucking Association, which operates as a miniature trade association within the A.T.A.
Driver numbers will grow over that time, but not enough to stem the growing driver shortage already affecting agricultural commodity producers and food manufacturers. Mr. Samson discussed a few of the routes being pursued to address that during a breakout session at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2019 Agricultural Outlook Forum at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel in Arlington, Va.
From the regulatory side, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration pilot program has been discussed for former military drivers, including those in the 18- to 20-year-old age bracket.
Legislatively, the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy (or DRIVE-Safe) Act, introduced to the House of Representatives in March 2018 by Representative Duncan D. Hunter of California, directs the Department of Transportation to issue regulations relating to an apprenticeship program for licensed commercial motor vehicle drivers under the age of 21. The bill has 74 co-sponsors in the House and would allow for an apprenticeship program featuring “a laundry list of training and technology requirements, including an experienced co-driver during initial training.”
Mr. Samson said the industry has increased salaries, added bonuses and made scheduling more flexible in an attempt to lure more drivers. Roadblocks for companies looking to hire younger include hefty insurance premiums for drivers under 25, as well as the “difficult emotional argument” for putting an 18-year-old driver behind the wheel of a semi-trailer.
Meanwhile, attempts to minimize “turn-and-wait times” have led to preferred shipper-to-carrier relationships and the agricultural exemptions have added to efficiency of the industry following the adoption of mandated electronic driver logs. Those exemptions from hourly limits, such as for loading and the first 150 miles (for both empty or full trucks) and split shift sleeper cabs are examples of minor changes that have added a large amount of flexibility with no degradation of safety, Mr. Samson said.
Mr. Samson concluded his talk with an update on a 2019 highway bill, and what that might include. The biggest variables are how to fund it long term and what is politically feasible.