The USA needs around 111,000 more drivers to move the nation’s freight, according to Doug Stobiber, vice president of produce transportation for L&M Transportation Services of Raleigh, NC. He was speaking at the produce industry’s largest gathering recently, the annual convention of the Production Marketing Association (PMA), held in Anaheim, CA
While Stoiber notes better pay and higher freight rates for drivers is important, he placed just as much emphasis on truckers being repected.
He points out there is a shortage of qualified drivers and it is only going to get worse, primarily because fewer younger drivers are entering the industry, combined with greater numbers of older truckers retiring. While the average age of the commerical driver is 48 years old, the ones under 30 years of age amount to less than 10 percent.
Current law requires commerical driver’s operating interstate be at least 21 years old. President Obama is in favor of permitting states to lower the age limit to 18 years old. While supporters of this proposal are looking at ways to increase the number of drivers with CDLs (commerical drivers license), opponents point out the high accident rate among teenage automobile drivers, saying they are too young and immature to drive a big rig.
Starting this year, the nation’s largest generation (baby boomers) are reaching 65 years of age. They are retiring at a rate of 10,000 each day.
Stoiber made some economic comparisions between hauling dry freight, compared to fresh produce. There are liabilities as a produce trucker. Those remain until the papers are signed and the receiver accepts the load. The use of a refrigeration unit on a trailer adds an additional $1,500 in costs to a coast-to-coast haul. Overall, there are fewer risks with dry freight. Even with all the economic factors involved in produce hauling, Stoiber emphasizes the need for the produce industry giving drivers more respect. This will go along way in attracting more drivers to haul produce.
“Truckers have been viewed as obstacles to doing business instead of partners in the supply chain,” Stoiber said.
He encouraged the audience to pay higher freight rates and to think in terms of price per consumer unit instead of $1,000 per load. It comes down to more than just a good freight rate. Loyalty and respect are very important to truckers, he said.
Stoiber also addressed issues brought forward by a group encourging better practices in dealing with produce truckers. The North American Produce Transportation Working Group (NAPTWA) earlier this year released guidelines for making fresh produce hauling more attractive. Tips range from decreasing detention time when loading and unloading, to allowing drivers to watch loading.
The best practices are regularly reviewed and updated as federal regulations and other factors change the way truckers are allowed to operate, said Stoiber, who is a member of NAPTWA. The best practices are free on the working group’s website at www.naptwg.org.