Saturday, May 19 2018
Orlando, Fla.— According to the American Truck Association, the industry has been struggling with driver shortages for the past 15 years. During the Great Recession, freight volumes dropped, allowing the industry to meet demand with fewer drivers. But when volumes recovered in 2011, the driver shortage became a problem again.
Currently, more than 70 percent of goods consumed in the US are moved by truck, but the industry needs to hire almost 900,000 more drivers to meet rising demand. There are many reasons for the driver shortage, but one of the largest factors is the relatively high average age of the existing workforce.
According to surveys by ATA, the average driver age in the for-hire over-the-road truckload industry is 49. Other trucking sectors have an even higher average age, like less-than-truckload and private carriers. While the driver shortage is not as acute in these sectors as it is in the over-the-road truckload sector, the high average age still affects the overall shortage. As these two groups see drivers retire, they often go into the truckload labor pool to recruit drivers.
Motor carriers struggle to find enough qualified drivers. Many carriers, despite being short drivers, are highly selective in hiring drivers because they have made safety and professionalism high priorities.
If the trend continues, there could be severe supply chain disruptions which may cause significant shipping delays, higher inventory carrying costs, and perhaps shortages at stores. Because trucks account for 70.6% of all tonnage moved in the U.S., it is highly unlikely that the driver shortage could be reduced in any significant manner through the modal shift (i.e., shifting a large amount of freight from the highway to the rails).
THE PROPOSED POSSIBLE SOLUTION
Fleets with self-driving long-haul trucks and traditional human-driven regional routes could help the trucking industry address the problem of an aging driver workforce.
Uber, has been tackling this issue investing in both self-driving trucks and Uber Freight, a free app that matches carriers and their drivers with loads to haul. The biggest technical known hurdles for self-driving trucks are driving on tight and crowded city streets, backing into complex loading docks, and navigating through busy facilities. This is an area that is not expected to be solved by robots, it requires the human capability to maneuver and it won’t change at least for the near future until the so-called “smart cities” are built in a very long term.
Understanding that truck drivers have a very tough job on the roads, on which the number of driving hours can be grueling to the point that may become dangerous, the long haul portion of driving, self-driving trucks can ease some of the burdens of increasing demand. This could also create an opportunity for drivers to shift into local haul jobs so they can stay closer to home.
Uber argued that rather than a future of autonomous trucks replacing the humans in the trucking workforce with robots, the technology could be used to both alleviate the driver shortage and help make the existing driving jobs more appealing to younger prospective drivers.
The company began a research project into the potential impact of self-driving trucks on the trucking industry. Working with an estimate of 1 million self-driving trucks on the road by the year 2028, Uber found that the number of truck driving jobs would still increase overall in the same period. While the autonomous vehicles would reduce the number of long-haul trucking jobs, it would create far more short-haul driving opportunities.