ORLANDO, Fla. — A packed session on produce transportation issues at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit sought ideas from the audience on possible solutions to alleviate driver shortages.
Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies at PMA, led the Oct. 18 “Experience Extension” session, and was accompanied by Jon Samson, executive director of the Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference for the American Trucking Associations and
David Mostoller, general manager at C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc.
Samson said the driver shortage — now at about 50,000 drivers across the U.S. among all sectors — will only get worse in coming years. There are currently about 500,000 over-the-road truckers, he said.
Over the next 15 years or so, the driver shortage could increase to 250,000, he said.
One of the strategies to bring new drivers to the industry is an attempt to lower the age minimum from 21 to 18 for interstate trucking. There are 48 states that allow 18-year old drivers for intrastate routes.
Samson said the trucking industry is working with Congress and regulators to bring down the threshold age for interstate trucking to 18, perhaps first through pilot projects.
The industry also has raised wages and tried to make life more comfortable for the drivers, he said.
Mostoller said C.H. Robinson is working to make it easier and more efficient for truck capacity to work with the company.
Treacy said that receivers and shippers who make trucks wait to load or unload will affect truck rates and the willingness of truckers to take on fresh produce loads.
Mostoller said that what truckers think of receivers and shippers is important.
“If you are known to hold trucks ... you are going to pay for it,” he said.
One audience member said that if hold times for truckers were erased at loading and unloading, that would add an estimated 15% more capacity to the industry.
“And so when we talk about capacity and driver shortage, it is a huge issue, but this ability to communicate between shipper, carrier and receiver and be efficient can really start to close that gap as well,” the audience member said.
Treacy urged audience members to become familiar with list of best practices for shippers, receivers and carriers developed by the North American Produce Transportation Working Group, which was led by the United Fresh Produce Association and includes members from other industry associations.
Another question from the audience was about whether the trucking industry could use more immigrants or guest workers to help alleviate the shortage, but Samson said that would be difficult to achieve politically.
Audience members, organized by tables, submitted ideas on how to address trucking issues organized by a grid of high/low impact and low/high cost.
Ideas generated included using parolees as drivers, investing in autonomous trucks and developing a smart phone app to find available drivers.