Lead Times Lengthen under Trucking Pinch

Bulk Tanker TruckAs the nation struggles under the burdens of an existing driver shortage which has been compounded by new federal regulations, gone are the days when customers could send in a PO with a firm date and time and expect delivery.  And unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the situation will ease up anytime soon.

The shortage of qualified truck drivers is not a new problem.  For 15 years the industry has struggled with a driver shortage as many older drivers retire, and the job attracts fewer and fewer new candidates’ due to the long hours and time away from home.  However, industry analysis indicates that the beginning of 2018 has the lowest ratio of available trucks to loads since 2005.  There is reportedly now just one truck available for every 12 loads that need to be shipped.

The problem has been intensified in recent weeks due to the new federal mandate going into effect of trucks being equipped with electronic logging devices.  The new devices, which automatically record driving hours with no forgiveness, doesn’t allow drivers the flexibility they once enjoyed.  Driving hours are still recorded during traffic delays and time spent waiting in line at tank washes, causing drivers to “run out of hours” faster than ever before.  The hassle of the new rules is pushing many experienced drivers into early retirement.

There is also an added operating expense to consider.  Industry estimates indicate electronic logging could cost $2 billion in added expenses.   For many smaller fleets, the burden of installing the e-logging devices into their trucks is already enough to put them out of business, and then there are monthly subscription fees to take into consideration.  The uptick in expense in a time of high demand and short supply of available drivers is causing a dramatic increase in the price of freight rates.

These factors are contributing to many adjustments by both freight carriers and their customers.  With severe winter weather affecting much of the country this season, many customers are willing to pay premiums to move essential commodities such as deicers, causing anyone not willing to pay extra to lose their trucks.  Fleets are also adapting to the market by cutting out any extra expenses, such as specialized equipment, like pumps on tanker trucks.

So, what can you and your company do to mitigate trucking problems?   Below are three ideas for ways you can help ensure your loads are delivered when you need them:

  1. Plan ahead.   Include plenty of lead time when placing POs for bulk tanker deliveries or full truckload dryvans.
  2. Be flexible about delivery.  Offer up a few acceptable dates for delivery, and include multiple delivery times or delivery windows.
  3. Reconsider equipment requests.  Does your plant have air available to offload tankers?  If not, you might want to consider adding it, as it will increase the pool of trucks available to cover your load.   Other requirements to consider might be the need to steam or heat material.  If the product is not in danger of freezing, the added time offloading might be a fair trade-off for the added costs and time delays incurred by a steaming facility.