If you want to know how produce trucking issues are viewed by some folks in the produce industry, you should have been at the annual convention of the United Fresh Produce Association, held in Dallas. Specifically, the session was held on May 1st by wholesalers/distributors and titled Examing Today’s Transportation Challenges and Alternatives.
The 60-minute meeting was held in the same Dallas Convention Center that will host the Great American Trucking Show August 23-25.
Among the issues dealt with were the driver’s shortage, detention, and hours of service. (Within the next few days I’ll provide more coverage on the session ranging hours of service to stolen loads and dicussions of alternatives to trucks for moving produce).
On the program was moderator, Ron Carkoski, head of Four Seasons Produce, Inc.; Alex Crow, national trucking manager, Hellman Perishable Logistics; Ken Nable, president of Kington and Associates Marketing, LLC; Dan Vache’, vice president, supply chain management, United; and Gary York, general manager, C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.
Concerning the availablity of drivers, Crow noted there was only a “moderate” shortage of drivers — amounting to about 200,000. “We need to treat drivers as professionals. We are feeling the shortage,” Crow related. His logistics company had even hired professional “head hunters” to find more drivers. “We (as an industry) expect drivers to be professional, but often don’t treat them like professionals.”
Crow believes the driver shortage results from issues such as not paying them enough, to excessive waiting times for loading and unloading. “With the multi pick ups and multi drops we have to let the customers (receivers) know they need to pay (extra) for that.”
York at C.H. Robinson concurs. He points out driver salaries trail other occupations and many would be truckers chose higher paying jobs in construction and elsewhere.
“In 2004 we saw 1.6 million housing starts. Today there are about 600,000. Housing starts next year are projected to be about one million, and “drivers tend to go where the work is. As the economy improves, the driver shortage will increase, and transportation will cost more in driver wages.”
Vache’ of United, who has an extensive background with in-tranist temperature recording devices (such as Ryan Instruments and SensiTech), adds, “Drivers are tired, not just of being treated like second class citizens, but third and fourth class citizens. They are away from home a lot and they have families to support. What can we do to make it more attractive for drivers to enter trucking?”
York urges shippers and receivers to work on efficiency in reducing wait times at the docks. There also needs to be faster turn around times between loads. He notes while detention charges certainly are not “mainstream” in the produce industry, detention charges are being applied more than in the past.
A benefit for drivers will be advances in technolgy, York believes, which can be used to expedite action on loads involving claims. Technology can help “lay the blame” in a claims dispute and thus reduce the amount of claims arising.
Regarding efforts to increase gross vehicle weights for Class 8 trucks from 80,000 to 97,000 pounds, no one expressed much hope Congress will deal anytime soon with this issue.
Vache’ says increasing truck weight limits will be safer because of the industry continues to improve its safety record, equipment is better, etc. Heavier loads will also reduce the number trucks on congested highway.
York calls the idea of bigger trucks “appealing.”
Nable adds that heavier trucks will reduce the “footprint.” In other words, it would be good for the environment.
While the panel emphasizes the pros of increasing weight limits, the downside from a driver’s point of view were largely ignored. For example, increased weight limits will result in more wear and tear on trucking equipment, consume more diesel fuel, and result in higher costs of operation for the trucker. Will the produce industry willingly increase rates accordingly? Most truckers I have talked to believe they will be expected to haul the heavier loads without additional compensation. The prospects of the produce industry increasing freight rates for hauling heavier loads was not addressed by the panel.