Driver shortage, wait times are hardest part for trucking companies

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The nation’s trucks and truck drivers, including those in Clark and Champaign counties, are the link in the supply chain where the rubber literally hits the road.

So while the national supply chain is getting new attention as inflation looms and store shelves empty, trucking advocates say inefficiencies in the way goods are delivered to homes and businesses have long plagued the system.

Trucking is one of the major employers in our region, which is why the Springfield News-Sun asked leaders in the industry how the supply chain disruptions are impacting them.

Heavy and tractor trailer trucking jobs are among the 25 jobs in Ohio expected to have the most openings through 2028, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

In September, there were 72,400 truck transportation jobs in Ohio, according to the Ohio Bureau of Labor Market Information.

Job want ad postings for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers were the second most common, after registered nurses, for the Miami Valley on Ohio’s jobs website for the month ending Aug. 13. There were 1,377 ads for drivers in the west region, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Chief among the inefficiencies in the supply chain cited by industry leaders: Truck drivers sometimes find themselves waiting for hours, not only to accept new freight but to drop those shipments off — what the industry calls “detention times.”

President Joe Biden recently announced a plan to have the Port of Los Angeles operate 24 hours a day, a directive meant to relieve the wait time for the dozens of container ships waiting offshore. And big shipping companies such as UPS and FedEx said they, too, will expand working hours.

But that’s one end of the problem, trucking advocates say. Time spent waiting at destinations is another issue.

“The problem is, the warehouses don’t run 24/7,” said Thomas Balzer, president and chief executive of the Ohio Trucking Association. “So you can take a container and put it on the truck at 3 a.m. But what are you going to do with it? They (warehouses, distribution centers, factories) run normal business hours. They could be closed.”

“The problems are more complex than just the ports,” he said.

An inefficiency ‘going back decades’

Dale Briggs, president of Imperial Express Inc. & Imperial Freight Management LLC in Springfield, said meeting the demand of customers is the biggest challenge because of the driver shortage.

“It has been a real issue trying to find drivers,” he said.

Further compounding the problem is a federal law that prohibits 18 to 21 year old truck drivers from crossing state lines to make deliveries, Briggs said. He hopes the law changes so that trucking companies can work with younger drivers. They could go through a finishing program to continue training after they earn their CDL, and they’d be paired with experienced drivers, Briggs said.

“Once the young people get to be 21, they’ve already (mainly) established a career, so we need to be able to reach out to them right out of high school,” he said. “In most cases, it’s a great path to a great income potential without a college degree.”

Another issue that’s plaguing the trucking industry is that it has an aging workforce, and many of the drivers are looking to retire soon, Briggs said. In addition, some drivers prefer to be home most nights, so they avoid jobs that require them to travel long distances, he said.

In an effort to attract drivers, his company started focusing on regional customers, allowing truckers to return home to their families nightly.

“I think as a result of the truck driving shortage, all trucking companies are trying to be innovative and creative at finding ways to make jobs better for CDL drivers to have a better quality of life,” he said. “We are trying to match up drivers with routes that they like, and trying to do a lot more to really make sure the drivers enjoy what they’re doing. We want to attract more drivers with that lifestyle and on top of that, increasing pay across the board.”

Jake Shuman, transport manager for the former Shuman Specialized Transportation, echoed Briggs, saying his company also has trouble finding drivers.

“It’s absolutely harder now than in the pandemic,” he said. “Concerning employees and the struggle for that, the challenges with this industry are complex, and they all affect each other.”

Drivers at some trucking companies in the region earn $75,000 to $100,000 a year, while being home two nights a week and 90% of all weekends.

Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, sees two challenges facing truckers at the moment: A shortage of parking areas for trucks, especially in locales that draw lots of trucks. And too much time wasted on uncompensated detention times.

Truck drivers are mostly paid by the mile, she said. “Shippers and receivers have no disincentives to waste a truck driver’s time. They have no incentive to get them in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible. That’s been an inefficiency with the supply chain going back decades.”

Labor shortages on both ends of a trucker’s journey — receiving and delivering — have amplified problems. “It is getting worse,” Taylor said.

According to trucking industry consultant TAFS Inc., most shippers and receivers have a two-hour window to load and/or unload a truck. Any time spent outside those two hours is considered “detention.”

If trucking companies are working through a broker, detention rates can be negotiated with shippers and receivers, TAFS said.

But some working with brokers doesn’t really address the issue, said Kevin Burch, vice president of governmental affairs and sales for Martin Transportation Systems in Dayton. The key issue, in his view, is port efficiency.

With U.S. Department of Transportation requirements, once a driver starts his truck and his vehicle inspection, he’s on “a limited time clock,” Burch said.

When a driver arrives at a place that requires long hours of waiting, his or her options for relief are limited, said Nick Bartlett, owner of Spears Transfer & Expediting in Vandalia,

Burch said warehouses and distribution centers often don’t have enough people to adequately load, unload and reload drivers. Fork lift operators can be hard to find.

“Everything now is pretty much rolling inventory,” he said.

Current DOT requirements mandate that a driver may drive no more than 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty, or no more than 10 hours after eight consecutive hours off duty. There are exceptions for adverse conditions or short hauls.

“Two or three years ago, he might have been able to do five loads in an 11-hour day,” Bartlett said. “Now he’s getting one to one-and-a-half” loads.

One possible solution, as Taylor sees it: Do away with the exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act for trucking. That would meandrivers would be eligible to be paid overtime.

Staff Writer Lynn Hulsey contributed to this report.