In our Article 17 commentary in mid-May, we talked about the American Trucking Association’s recently released Forecast report. Bill Graves, the ATA president and CEO also had something to say about that report. “The driver market is the tightest it has been in twenty years”, he said, and he warned that, “It’s a major limitation to the amount of freight that motor carriers can haul. It’s critical that we find ways to tap a new labor pool, increase wages and recruit new people into the industry that keeps our national economy moving.”
Mr. Graves hit the nail right on the head. One doesn’t need a degree in logistics to see the accuracy in his words. Impartial onlookers readily see where the nerve wracking backups are originating in the system. The causes could easily be spotted even by a grammar school student. There are those in the industry, however, who wholeheartedly approve of the larger and larger vessels that are being introduced by shipowners. They’re absolutely certain that rapidly increasing volumes of cargo containers being offloaded in our ports by these giants will somehow tend to speed up the delivery of these goods to the consumer. Somehow. There are others who espouse the expansion of over-stressed container terminals, being obsessed with the idea that broadened and more complex operations will tend to reduce the strain placed upon the supply chain “infrastructure”, and somehow eliminate bothersome delays and congestion. Somehow. Others stump for multi-million (and multi-billion) dollar dredging projects, and “postPanamax” container cranes, and giant Swedish reachstackers able to stack containers six rows high, and RMGs, and RTGs, and gates, and gates, and more gates … and anything else that’s bigger than what was being used in prior years. Bigger is better, of course. Somehow. Everyone knows that. Just throw the taxpayer’s money at the problem.
Remember, though, before we had bigger vessels there were fewer delays. Before we had crowded terminals, there were fewer delays. Before we required dredging, stacking, and multiple gate operations, there were fewer delays. Jean Godwin said it four years ago; “It’s like trying to put a 16-inch pipe into a 4-inch opening”, but the industry continues to turn a deaf ear. What Jean was trying to point out was that larger “openings” were needed in order to maintain any kind of a steady and unimpeded flow of cargo. But wouldn’t multiple gates, and even “Offpeak” gates, provide those larger openings required by the increasing numbers of incoming containers? Pure and simply, no.
Listen to Mr. Graves again. When he said, “It’s critical that we find ways to tap a new labor pool, increase wages and recruit new people into the industry that keeps our national economy moving”, he was referring to the disturbing numbers provided by the ATA Forecast. That report on the present and future of the long-haul driver pool predicted that the shortage of drivers will increase to 111,000 by 2014. This is the “national crisis” that Mr. Michael Belzer has been trying to bring to our attention. The report also stated that if the trucking industry is to attract a higher share of drivers to match its projected growth over the next ten years, it will be necessary, at a minimum, for earnings to return to the wage levels of the ‘90s … for those in “the industry that keeps our national economy moving”. Officials must also address “the quality of life issues, including driver home time and schedule flexibility”, the report stated. Sounds like the truckers are getting their act together.