Economy Leads ATRI’s 2023 Top Industry Issues List
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AUSTIN, Texas — As trucking works through what economists are calling a freight recession, the health of the U.S. economy is the top concern of the industry, according to a new report by the American Transportation Research Institute.
The 19th annual Top Industry Issues list was unveiled Oct. 14 at American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition. Concern over the economy rose four spots this year to the top.
“The economy feels a little troubled right now,” ATRI President and Chief Operating Officer Rebecca Brewster told Transport Topics. “There’s a lot of geopolitical tension and a lot of uncertainty, and how we get to the other side isn’t real clear right now. That is causing the economy to be the No. 1 issue this year.”
The other issues in the top five are truck parking, fuel prices, the driver shortage and driver compensation, as expressed by industry professionals. ATRI is the nonprofit research arm of American Trucking Associations.
“There’s a lot of geopolitical tension and a lot of uncertainty," ATRI President Rebecca Brewster said Oct. 14 at ATA's Management Conference & Exhibition in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 14. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Nearly 23% of the respondents in the ATRI survey listed the state of the economy as their first, second or third most-pressing issue.
The report cites a significant number of challenges facing the industry during the past year, including rising inflation at the consumer and producer level, increasing interest rates to fight inflation, which raised the cost of borrowing. Another concern is pricing, which has been in a steady decline at both the contract and especially the spot level as consumers have shifted from purchasing goods and shipping those items on trucks to a more balanced economy of goods and services.
For the first time in several years, several challenges involving organized labor in the trucking and transportation sectors have arisen. All West Coast ports saw a drop of more than 20% in cargo volume through most of the year as the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union spent a year at the bargaining table before negotiating a new five-year contract.
Atlanta-based UPS Inc. and the Teamsters union with its 340,000 members reached a last-minute deal that avoided a walkout and likely would have caused a severe disruption to the U.S. economy. In both cases, the unionized workers received record-level salary increases and significant improvements in benefits.
On July 30, after prolonged and often difficult negotiations with the Teamsters, less-than-truckload carrier Yellow, which was saddled with nearly $1.5 billion in debt, closed its doors after nearly 100 years of operation. The company filed for bankruptcy Aug. 6, putting an estimated 22,000 drivers and an additional 8,000 employees out of work,
And while diesel prices have dipped in the fall, the cost of trucking’s primary fuel became a headwind during the spring and summer as demand increased and supplies tightened because of Russia and OPEC’s decision to reduce oil production, and ongoing disruption in Venezuela, which is one of the world’s biggest producers of the heavy crude that is refined into diesel.
“ATRI’s list thoroughly and accurately reflects the challenges we’ve faced this year,” said outgoing ATA Chairman Dan Van Alstine, the president and COO of Ruan Transportation Management Systems. “Costs were up and demand was down, all while we worked to navigate a number of workforce and regulatory issues. Thankfully, ATRI’s analysis doesn’t just tell us what the issues are, it spells out a number of data-driven strategies that the industry can pursue to address them.”
For the ninth consecutive year, truck parking remained a high priority, coming in as the second-most pressing issue. This comes even as government and industry leaders are making progress on solutions. Congressional lawmakers plan to spend more than $750 million to address a shortage that is estimated at just one parking spot for every 11 truck drivers. Brewster says, however, that much more needs to be done.
2023 Top Industry Issues
2. Truck parking
3. Fuel prices
4. Driver shortage
5. Driver compensation
6. Lawsuit abuse reform
7. Driver distractions
8. Driver retention
9. Delays at customer facilities
10. Zero-emission vehicles
“This is the highest we have ever seen truck parking in this survey,” she said. “I think this is a collective response by the men and women who drive as to how big of an issue this is for them.”
The top five issues were followed by lawsuit abuse reform, driver distractions, driver retention, delays at customer facilities and zero-emission vehicles. Among motor carrier respondents specifically, zero-emission vehicles ranked seventh.
“We face a number of challenges regarding the mandates and timelines that are coming out of governments to transition to low- or zero-emission vehicles,” Brewster said. “The charging infrastructure is one of the big ones. Does the nation’s electrical grid have the sufficiency to run the nation’s vehicle fleet if we’re all running electric cars or electric trucks?”
Brewster added that if the nation’s vehicle fleet went to all electric in 2024, it would need to utilize 40% of the country’s current electrical capacity to operate all the cars and trucks on the road now.
The report surveyed more than 4,000 industry stakeholders. That range included 47% who are motor carrier executives and 29% who are truck drivers. The remaining 24% included industry suppliers, driver trainers and law enforcement personnel.
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