Truckers say rules could cut into their ranks

03/08/2011 12:08:45 PM
Jim Offner

The rules controlling truckers are getting tighter, and it has the industry worried about a possible driver shortage.

Much of the angst stems from a set of regulations widely known as “CSA 2010,” the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) initiative that, backers say, introduces new enforcement and compliance challenges aimed at improving safety — and ultimately saving lives and money.

The idea behind the rules, supporters say, is to protect trucking companies by introducing driver and fleet safety metrics that can help potential customers choose a carrier. Companies with safe drivers, the reasoning goes, are more prone to draw reliable and consistent customers.

The rules also place limits on the number of consecutive hours a driver can be behind the wheel.

“If they change that and take out an hour, that’s going to hurt us,” said Kenny Lund, vice president of support operations for La Canada, Calif.-based Allen Lund Co. Inc.

Some trucking industry participants think it could cull as much as 30% of drivers.

“CSA 2010 is certainly a big deal,” said Kerry Byrne, executive vice president of Cincinnati-based Total Quality Logistics.

“While we don’t know exactly what this looks like, it will certainly (have) the potential to impact driver capacity in a very big way.

“We have been preparing for what we believe will be a very tight truck market by focusing on expanding our carrier capacity, primarily by providing technology solutions for carriers that will make it attractive and easy to do business with us. An example of this would be our smart phone mobile application that we recently made available to carriers.”

For the first time, drivers are bearing as much regulatory burden as carriers are, said Chuck Nelson, owner of New Braunfels, Texas-based Chuck’s Transport Inc.

“In addition to the carrier having safety responsibility, now the driver is going to be involved in that reporting, as well,” he said.

“Traditionally, all the safety violations or information from the scale houses have gone back against the carriers. Now, it will also go against the driver’s license, as well. So, they’re forcing the carrier and the driver to operate in a more safe and honest way of conducting business.”

Nelson was asked what he thought of estimates that the new rules would cut the number of drivers by up to 20%.

“I would think that’s a conservative number,” he said.

And, he said, it could lead to a critical shortage of drivers.

“Easily,” he said.

That means higher costs for customers — on top of already rising surcharges, Nelson said.

“It’s still a money game,” he said.

“Whether you’re in trucking or any business, when you need something, you’re going to have to pay more for it. You’re going to see higher rates, carriers fighting for what’s left of the labor pool — and how do you attract the labor pool? You do that by increased wages and better benefits than the guy they’re currently working.”

How high will rates climb?

“I think it’s going to be closer to 30% because there are still a lot of guys out there that are good drivers but that push the envelope and maybe don’t operate within their exact hours of service that they’re going to be forced to when all this gets enacted,” Nelson said.

Nelson figured rates could rise 15% if 10% of drivers are lost to the rules.

“If we lose 30%, then that rate increase will probably be higher,” he said.

On the other hand, the industry might see more team drivers, said Mauro Moreno, owner of Nogales-based truck brokerage Aviva International LLC.

“A couple of years ago, there used to be a lot of teams and we had a five- or six-year gap when there wasn’t a lot of teams,” he said. “Now, they’re coming back.”

There also might be another side to the rule changes, where the number of qualified drivers is concerned, Moreno said.

“From 2007 to today, I heard, 70% of men have lost their jobs,” he said.

“What do they do? They look for jobs with availability, so they’re saying there’s jobs in trucking, so there’s an option. It’s a benefit to trucking.”



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