Tanked and Heading South – The U.S. Truck Load Capacity Gap

Industry leaders warn that 2017 could be a tough year for domestic transportation. As states and the federal government tighten regulations on clean trucks, hours of service and comprehensive driver training, the effects will be felt throughout the trucking community. Clean Trucking takes units off the road. The enactment of the clean truck program in the L.A. and Long Beach harbor effectively took any vehicle older than 1998 out of the queue for port drayage.  Trucks no longer qualified for port work were reassigned to haul domestic loads until C.A.R.B. (California Air Resource Board) stepped in with statewide standards.  In 2011 the California Air Resource Board adopted a comprehensive plan to remove all trucks with engines older than 2010 from state highways by 2023. In the Ports of New York and New Jersey a similar requirement was enacted to remove all pre 2007 vehicles from port work by January of next year.  It’s worth noting that other ports and states are reviewing similar legislation so the ban on older working trucks is widening. While clean trucks are good for the environment, ambitious plans to remove older models will continue to impact truckload capacity over the next several years. Hours of Service (HOS) put a strain on capacity. Hours of service requirements initiated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have changed the way over the road trucks are dispatched.  Drivers are now required to rest during a 14-hour shift and can only begin after 10 consecutive hours off duty. Trucks which could once complete a long distance run in 2 days are now required to add more rest and off duty time to the trip. Many motor carriers have begun issuing customer guidelines as to how long a trip will take. More hours means more cost to the operator in fuel, maintenance and driver pay. It also takes trucks out of the loop for longer periods reducing available units for other work.  The result has been shorter runs and higher rates to compensate owners for changes in the way they do business. E.L.D.s (Electronic Logging Devices) tighten the loose ends. Mandatory requirements for Electronic Logging Devices have left no room for interpretation regarding a driver’s hours. Logging units are integrated with the engine and have GPS tracking to provide seamless, tamper resistant monitoring of the truck’s activity.  Software allows roadside officers at weigh stations to analyze trucks as they enter. The E.L.D has forced drivers to be more compliant and we are achieving greater safety on our nation’s highways. Logistically however transit times have increased and capacity has been negatively affected. Younger drivers are accepting the new devices, but pushback from more seasoned professionals is causing many older drivers to consider leaving the industry. Sometimes capacity is not only measured by the availability of trucks but by the accessibility of drivers to man them. Driver training is it enough to fill the gap? The FMCSA has place stringent requirements on today’s over the road drivers.  In addition to instructions for hauling 53’ trailers, the modern driver must understand road safety, truck weight limitations and hours of service rules. Most are also given extensive training to earn Longer Combination Vehicle Certificates (LCV).  One way to fill the gap in capacity is for motor carriers to piggyback trailers using one cab and one driver. It was rare to see tandem trailers on the highway as little as 5 years ago. Then it was usually a 53’er and what’s called a pup trailer of about 28 feet in length. Now it’s commonplace to see tandem 53’ trailers on the interstate and more carriers are opting to move more volume this way. The Gap is upon us. As states and the federal government press for higher standards in clean trucks, the pool of compliant units will grow smaller.  Prices for a new truck begin at around $80,000 and run upwards of $150,000 for a sleeper cab. Custom features, which give the driver some measure of comfort on the road, can reach $200,000 per unit.  Some motor carriers are downsizing their fleet rather than buying more trucks, bidding on shorter runs and hoping for better turn-times.  Hauling tandem loads will relieve some of the pressure as motor carriers turn to this alternative as well.  One wonders however, has truck safety taken a step backward in the process?  E.L.D.s leave no room for interpretation adding hours and or days to long haul runs. One carrier limits its drivers to no more than 500 miles per day. This definitely takes capacity out of the market place.  The demand for qualified drivers is high and not likely to come down any time soon. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the net increase in Tractor Trailer Drivers to be only 5% annually between now and 2024.   Since 2015 fewer drivers have entered the industry and it has been harder to keep seasoned professionals from retiring.  Driver pay has been a contributing factor.  The average pay for an over the road driver is about $41,000, more if he or she has their LCV certificate. Similar money can be made in other fields without the stress inherent in the job. Over the road trucking requires a particular mindset and life style.  New drivers are young and single with no children or family ties.  They view the open road as a challenge and a pathway to their future. Those that team up with a significant partner usually find that the prospect of children changes their outlook on long haul and double team driving. In the coming years the question you may be asking yourself is not how much will I pay for the freight but will I be able to find a truck to move it?
Matt Guasco
Matt Guasco


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