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US driver shortage intensifies

Atlanta, GA, US:  All US truck operators will face a shrinking driver pool as the impact of new government safety regulations and the aging of the driver workforce combine to reduce the supply of labor in the market.

“It’s an industrywide problem,” says Patrick L Reed, executive vice president and chief operating officer of FedEx Freight, the less-than truckload arm of Memphis-based FedEx Corp.

Many in the US trucking industry believe the higher-paid staff in the less-than-truckload segment means operators will be able to avoid the problem of finding and keeping qualified drivers.

But the industry at large is already having trouble finding drivers to meet present-day freight demand, not to mention enough labor to transport the higher volumes projected through the rest of the decade, said Reed, speaking at the Warehousing Education and Research Council’s (WERC) annual meeting in Atlanta, said. As if to reinforce his point, he added, “It’s going to be tough all over.”

The industry currently has a shortage of about 100,000 drivers, according to Noë Perry, head of consultancy Transport Fundamentals. Perry said the new wave of safety regulations, such as the “CSA 2010” carrier performance measure and proposed changes to driver hours-of-service regulations, will require 400,000 drivers to be hired over the next five years to offset attrition from retirements as well as forced and unforced departures. He expects the shortage to peak in late 2013 at 250,000 drivers.

Reed said, FedEx Freight plans to aggressively push its in-house training program, which began in April 2000 and has so far graduated 3,036 drivers. More than 500 are expected to graduate this year, according to Reed. Nearly three-quarters of all graduates since the program’s launch are still with FedEx Freight, according to company estimates.

Steve Wutke, vice president of sales and marketing Prime, a truckload carrier specialising in refrigerated transport, endorsed CSA 2010, the federal government’s complex and controversial carrier grading system designed to force marginal or unsafe drivers off the roads. However, CSA’s long-term benefits can’t mask the near-term uncertainty as the trucking industry struggles to understand its workings and its impact, Wutke said.

“It will be a tough journey to get” to compliance, said Wutke. He also stressed the importance of truckers investing the resources to equip their rigs with electronic on-board recorders, saying it’s the only way for companies to ensure their drivers are complying with the federal hours-of-service rule.