Long Distance Truck Drivers-Their Joys and Frustrations

By Johnson, James C.; Bristow, Dennis N. et al. | Journal of Transportation Management, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Long Distance Truck Drivers-Their Joys and Frustrations


Johnson, James C., Bristow, Dennis N., McClure, Diane J., Schneider, Kenneth C., Journal of Transportation Management


INTRODUCTION

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Confucius (551-479 BC)

My father taught me to work; he did not teach me to love it. I never did like to work, and I don't deny it. I'd rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh--anything but work.

Abraham Lincoln (1809 -1865)

The trucking industry has a serious problem retaining an adequate number of long-distance truck drivers. In 2006, according to the American Transportation Research Institute, the research division of the American Trucking Association, the driver shortage was the most important problem facing the trucking industry. This finding was based on their survey of more than 5,000 trucking company executives and published in their annual list of the top ten concerns of the nation's largest trucking companies. In 2007, the driver shortage slipped to the second most important problem, (Gallagher 2007b) and in 2008, it was listed as the third most serious concern, with fuel costs the number one problem, and the weak economy as the second most serious issue facing the trucking industry (Outsourced Logistics 2008; Automotive Fleet 2008; Traffic World 2008).

As noted, the driver shortage is less severe in 2009 because of the twin problems of higher fuel costs in most of 2008 and the weakened economy. This has resulted in many trucking companies going out of business. For example, the American Trucking Association reported that during 2008, more than 3,600 trucking companies declared bankruptcy (Hoffman 2008; Roth 2008; Roth 2009). James P. Hoffa, president of the largest truck driver union, the Teamsters, stated that the recent business setting is "the worst economic environment since the Great Depression." (Gallagher 2008c) Because of this situation, his union in early 2009 agreed to a 10 percent hourly wage rate reduction with the largest LTL (less than truckload) carrier, YRC Worldwide. This action was taken because some financial observers believed that YRC would fail if it did not substantially reduce its cost structure (Gallagher 2009).

Although the driver shortage is less problematic now, it will again become a pressing problem because of demographics and trucking industry growth. The American Trucking Association commissioned a study by Global Insights, Inc. to examine the U.S. long-distance truck driver shortage. The report was completed in May 2005 and concluded that between 2005 and 2015 there will be a need to attract 539,000 new drivers to meet industry requirements. The report assumed that the trucking industry would grow at a rate of 2.2 percent per year, for an increase of 320,000 drivers in the ten year period. Also, looking at long-distance drivers who are 55 and older, and assuming they retire at 65, an additional 219,000 drivers will be needed to replace these workers (Global Insights, Inc. 2005). Joe White, a transportation consultant, examined the ATA Study and observed,

My opinion is that the driver shortage will be worse than predicted. Regardless of when the economy recovers, the large baby boomer demographic will soon begin retiring from all industries and the blue-collar labor competition will become fierce (Gallagher 2008b; see also White 2008a; White 2008b).

Not only will there be a future shortage of drivers, the problem of driver turnover will undoubtedly continue. Turnover is measured by comparing the number of drivers hired who quit within one year and dividing that by the total number of drivers hired. For example, if a trucking company has ten drivers and each driver works the entire year, they have a zero percentage turnover. Now assume just five of them work the entire year. The other five quit during the year and have to be replaced; we would then have a turnover rate for the company of 50 percent. If all ten of the original drivers quit and had to be replaced during the year, then the turnover rate would be 100 percent. …

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