I (Don't) Drive Your Truck: West Coast Truckers Strike Again

The trucking industry has turned to technology to address the industry's worsening trucker shortage and labor strike issues while Congress attempts to resolve the problem through legislation.

Strikes and Wage Hikes

On July 21, truckers working for the Pacific 9 Transportation company went on indefinite strike, causing further congestion problems and delays at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. This strike is just the latest addition to the laundry list of problems the trucking industry is facing,  most of which stem from poor working conditions and a lack of new drivers. The trucking industry is hugely important for the United States’ supply chain—67% of all freight in the U.S. was moved by truck in 2014. Both Congress and trucking companies are scrambling for innovative solutions to a growing issue.

Because of the  shortage, wages for truckers have grown 25% to over $50,000 annually, up from $40,360 in 2012. To attract and retain employees, some private institutions have started offering sign-on bonuses worth over than $5,000, as well as training programs teaching truckers how to minimize personal risk and maximize financial gain. Some companies, like Cargo Transporters from North Carolina, have installed satellite TV systems with more than 100 channels to serve as entertainment for when the truck drivers are away from home.

Some companies are seeking relief by adopting what is being described as an ‘Uber for trucks’ model, designing apps to connect truckers, freight brokers, and logistics companies. Truckloads, owned by Trucker Path, recently raised US $20M in Series A funding, and Cargomatic, a Los Angeles-based company, gained US $8M for its expansion. Aside from easing cargo shipping, these new platforms would help truck drivers earn more income by removing  steep freight broker fees from the equation. According to industry experts, this model  is most beneficial for independent truckers, who pick-up and deliver items for manufacturers and wholesalers, as the mobile apps allow them to have better positioning in the global market and compete with large corporations.

In addition to the “Uber” model, autonomous trucks, also known as “driverless trucks”, may also help ease the shortage. Developers of autonomous vehicle technology have not yet released full self-driving Level 4 trucks and have focused instead on the importance of improving the drivers’ quality of life.. German truck maker Daimler announced recently that it plans to begin testing self-driving trucks this year, hoping to move into production in 2-3 years.

Not to be forgotten, Congress has proposed its own solution to the problem by introducing  a bill allowing 18-year-olds to work as truck drivers, revising the current regulations that require commercial truckers to be at least 21 years of age. The proposed bill would allow teen truckers to cross state borders with an interstate commercial driver’s license. Despite the bill preventing teen truckers from hauling hazardous materials or operating trucks with overweight loads, safety advocates continue to oppose the issue and argue the danger of 18-year-olds driving long-haul trucks.

Companies are also addressing the severe gender gap in trucking. Ryder Dedicated, a logistics division of Ryder System Inc., has partnered with non-profit organization Women in Trucking to make trucks more adaptable to female drivers, adjusting seats and pedals and installing alarm systems for when they stop for breaks. Women constitute just 5% of truckers in the United States and represent an untapped market for employers—if trucking is presented as a more attractive career path for both genders.

Ultimately, technology will have to be the answer to the labor shortage unless trucking companies make significant changes to the working lives of truckers. Trucking continues to represent an integral portion of our nation’s supply chain—without improvement, delivery times will slow down significantly over the next few years.

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