Truck driver pool about to get shallow

NASHVILLE, Ind. — Big Brown is going grey.

In fact, United Parcel Service (UPS) expects to retire almost 25,000 baby-boomer drivers over the next five years.

Couple that with the onset of CSA 2010, more impending regulation from Washington and Ottawa, as well as the recovering economy, and it’s safe to say that if the professional heavy-duty truck driver shortage isn’t back in all its glory, it’s just around the corner.

It’s a sign of good times, unless you have freight to move and nobody to drive.

FTR Associates is a Nashville, Indiana, based trucking consultancy. Noel Perry is one of their chief analysts.

"As the marketplace expands even slowly," Perry is quoted in a recent Reuters news agency story as saying, "there will be a driver shortage."

Perry predicts a shortage of about 180,000 this year in the U.S. alone, with that number almost trebling by 2015.

Also, quarterly results from some of the biggest carriers in the states including UPS, JB Hunt, Landstar and CSX Corp., have reflected increased freight demands, which will add to the driver shortage.

Jeff Kaufman, a consultant with Sterne, Agee & Leach, predicts the demand for freight to grow by between three and four percent but the driver pool to grow by less than one percent.

The recession, which reduced tonnage by more than 20 percent since 2008, sent thousands of drivers into other occupations; and experts believe many won’t be climbing back into the drivers’ chairs.

JB Hunt, one of the top truckload carriers in the United States, said the underlying demographics that existed prior to the recession still prevails today.

"It is always difficult to find good, qualified drivers," said KeyBanc Capital Markets’ Todd Fowler. "New regulations and the fact that trucking companies have not been recruiting just compound the problem in the short term."

Some industry experts expect the introduction of CSA 2010 to exacerbate the driver-shortage of problem.

In fact, a few trucking giants such as Knight Transportation, Werner Enterprises, Covenant Transport, USA Truck and Celadon have said in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that the new Carrier Safety Analysis will adversely affect the driver pool.

However, Tom Bray, a CSA 2010 expert with the Neenah, Wisc., compliance expert J.J.Keller & Associates told that rumors of how badly CSA 2010 will affect the pool of drivers are wildly exaggerated.

"There’s no evidence that it’s going to be as bad as the rumors say," Bray said.

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