Brian Hart, with Super T Transport, Idaho Falls, Idaho, speaks Aug. 29 at the Idaho Grower Shippers Association annual convention in Sun Valley. From left to right: Alan Julian, Norfolk Southern; Brad Thrasher, Union Pacific Railroad; Brian Hart, Super T Transport; Lauren Singh, C.H. Robinson; Allen Deasy, CSX; and John Murray, Florida East Coast Railway. ( Tom Karst )

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Watergate ushered in a new era of young journalists. Mega-IPO payouts flooded tech companies with talent at the turn of the millennium. And the trucking industry had the Bandit and Sheriff Buford T. Justice, aka Smokey.

Brian Hart, with Super T Transport, Idaho Falls, Idaho, said 1977’s “Smokey and the Bandit,” about hauling a load of bootleg load Coors beer to Georgia, made trucking seem cool to young people.

That’s not the case anymore, said Hart, speaking during a panel on trucking and rail shipping at the 90th annual convention of the Idaho Grower-Shippers Association on Aug. 29. New talent has to be drawn into the trucking industry, because the biggest segment of drivers is older now.

“The biggest thing we’ve tried to do is try to change the environment of trucking,” Hart said.

“Unfortunately, drivers (today) are viewed with a stigma,” he said, adding that many are not treated with enough respect by people in the industry and detained for long hours before loading or unloading.

But shippers can play a key role in limiting turnover among drivers who haul fresh produce.

To counteract potential drivers’ lack of interest, Hart said Super T treats drivers as well as the company treats its management.

Shippers also can play a role in making a trucker’s environment better as well.

“It would be nice if we could all work together to help lure in more talent.”

Shippers and receivers can provide driver-friendly parking, restrooms and other perks.

“Believe it or not, a restroom is a simple, simple luxury that a driver doesn’t always get,” he said. “... I know they are a cost, but it does help us hold our drivers and helps them get excited to come to your facilities.”

Panelist Lauren Singh, Monterey, Calif.-based account manager for C.H. Robinson, said drivers have long memories if someone doesn’t treat them well.

“Some of the shippers that did hold trucks up for long amounts of time and cost them additional money — drivers remember that,” she said. “They know who those bad apples might have been, and they will be deterred from those particular orders.”

Shippers who provide television, wi-fi, showers and even food may find that it pays off.

“There are shippers that are doing a much better job in that area, particularly in (California’s) Salinas Valley and Fresno,” she said. “I went into a shipper I would consider a shipper of choice in the Fresno area and they had a couch that far surpassed the couch at my home and the drivers were loving it and they were in there watching TV and having a good time.”

Above perks, of course, drivers want to get in and out of a facility quickly. They want clear rules on what they will be paid if they are detained for a couple of hours.

“That’s the reality of what they’re looking for and that’s the reality of what a lot of shippers are doing,” she said.

Other topics addressed by the panel included raising the limit on truck weights on interstate shipments, lowering the age to 18 for interstate commercial truck drivers and the rate outlook for the balance of 2018. Rail leaders stressed the lobbying efforts to increase truck weight would hurt the competitiveness of train shipments.

Both rail and truck leaders said a strong economy could lead to higher transportation prices in the last quarter of this year.

“I wish I had better news but I don’t,” Hart said.

Singh said truck rates in the fourth quarter of 2018 may not feel as bad as last year because the industry learned how to prepare for it.

“I continue to urge shippers to treat (their) contract freight really well, and make sure (they) are prepared to lock in carrier contracts as soon as possible for quarter four,” she said.

Locking in a monthly contract versus a quarterly contract will keep transportation costs more in line with current rates, which could prevent carriers from bailing on their contract when the market does spike higher.

“Make that rate as attractive as possible and get your picks down and get your drops down,” Singh said. “If you can consolidate a one-pick load versus a three-pick load it makes the world of difference.”