Editorial: The Ceiling on a Hot Freight Market

As the U.S. economy and truck tonnage continue to power forward, trucking companies are enjoying the benefits of a hot freight market where their services are in high demand. At the same time, tight hauling capacity is making it tougher for shippers to find the trucks needed to transport their goods.

For carriers, this environment can yield higher rates, a constant stream of business opportunities and the ability to pick and choose the most profitable freight.

But, as the ’80s glam rockers Poison would be quick to remind us, every rose has its thorn.

Times like these are when the industry’s driver shortage is felt most acutely.

The difficulty of attracting and retaining good truck drivers is the hard ceiling that’s preventing fleets from taking full advantage of this booming freight market.

On the equipment side of the equation, fleets are lining up to purchase new trucks and trailers to help meet the high demand for transportation.

Over time, those purchases will bring the freight market closer to a supply-demand equilibrium, but the problem with a new truck, of course, is finding a qualified, professional driver to operate it.

The true capacity constraint is not equipment, but drivers.

To address this problem, many fleets have been announcing driver pay increases to help ensure that their trucks are on the road earning money, rather than sitting idle at a terminal.

But that’s only part of the solution.

Providing drivers with more home time, perhaps through the use of more drop-and-hook operations, also could be an important factor for many carriers.

At the same time, the industry must find ways to alleviate some of the most persistent headaches for drivers — detention time at shipper and consignee facilities and the shortage of places for trucks to park.

Taken together, those problems reduce driver satisfaction and can cut into their paychecks, making it more likely that they’ll ultimately look elsewhere for employment.

Longer term, ongoing efforts to spread the word on the many opportunities for well-paying jobs within trucking also holds the potential to bring new workers into the industry.

By taking those steps, fleets could be able to raise the ceiling on what’s possible during times like these, when business is strong.