Editorial: King Sisyphus, Driver Manager

Sisyphus, the ancient Greek king, was punished by Zeus for his arrogance and treachery and forced to push a boulder up a tall hill. When he neared the top, the massive rock escaped the king’s grasp and rolled down the hill, so Sisyphus had to start over again, and again, and again — forever.

Modern, non-evil trucking managers who deal with driver recruitment and retention can surely identify, as their work is often an uphill struggle.

If business is good, attracting new drivers and keeping good ones is a daunting challenge that takes up resources that could be used for improving operations or customer service.

When the driver shortage abates, it often coincides with a recession when there’s far less freight to haul. Pick your poison.

This issue of Transport Topics contains several variations on the theme.

The front page brings news of rising turnover rates during the second quarter, as quantified by American Trucking Associations. For large truckload carriers, turnover surged 16 percentage points to 90% per year. For small TL companies, the rate is up 19 points to 85% per year.

“After a period of relatively low turnover, it appears the driver market is tightening again, which coupled with increased demand for freight movement could rapidly exacerbate the driver shortage,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said.

A better tonnage environment is, of course, most welcome, but it’s not the only issue feeding this version of the shortage. The federal mandate for a switch to electronic logging devices for driver hours of service is widely seen as a contributor.

At the Intermodal Expo in Long Beach, Calif., transportation executives said the rule, which takes effect Dec. 18, will crimp freight-hauling capacity to a degree. Perhaps because the rule will eliminate HOS cheating, perhaps because it will drive truckers out of the industry — or maybe both — trucking supply is expected to dip as demand for services rises.

An Uber Freight executive said at the same meeting that his company can help make the industry more efficient, quickly matching drivers and loads so as to make the most of existing capacity. We’ll see.

There are many happy drivers who stay for years with a single company, so this is not a simple salary issue. The biggest challenge is recruiting good, new drivers to replace retirees and allow for industry expansion, and then keeping those people around.

That’s a challenge worthy of the wisdom of another ancient king, Solomon. Or maybe there’s a great new app for that.