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Trucking Companies Fear Driver Shortage
Tuesday, 09 March 2010 00:00
Spot shortages appearing as freight volume increases, says ATA

A spike in cargo volume could produce a driver shortage and would expose bottlenecks on key freight corridors, the chairman of the American Trucking Associations warns.

Hundreds of drivers left the industry during the lengthy trucking recession that started in mid-2007, Tommy Hodges said Monday in an address to the annual convention of the International Warehouse Logistics Association in Coronado, Calif.

"They left with a bad taste in their mouth," Hodges said, and many of those drivers will not come back to trucking even though U.S. unemployment remains high. He indicated that spot shortages are beginning to appear, citing the case of a North Carolina fleet operator who can't find enough drivers.

Motor carrier executives today, however, are more worried about the 4,493 trucking company failures and 174,000 trucks that were taken off the road during the recession. The industry is still facing an overcapacity problem and an economic environment in which it has little pricing leverage.

Nevertheless, volume is starting to pick up, and despite attempts in Washington to encourage a shift of freight from highways to intermodal rail, freight volume is projected to increase at least 30 percent in the coming decade. It is possible that a driver shortage could become the industry's biggest problem, Hodges said.

Aging infrastructure could further reduce trucking capacity by causing excessive delays on freight corridors. Hodges said planners have identified 57 critical bottlenecks across the country which, if not corrected, will affect goods movement.

ATA supports additional funding for freight infrastructure. Hodges noted that the federal gasoline tax that is used for highway repairs and expansion has not been increased since 1993. Compared to 1993, a dollar generated today by the gas tax will buy only 40 cents in infrastructure development.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, continues to press for a highway authorization bill that would raise $550 billion. The highway authorization bill that expired last year raised $256 billion. Oberstar's bill is ready, but it has reached a stalemate in Congress, Hodges said.

Journal of Commerce Online, 3/9/2010