Driver Shortage Ranks No. 1 Concern According to ATRI

For the third year in a row, the driver shortage remains the number one concern in the trucking industry, according to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). While trucking companies struggle to recruit and retain drivers, other issues include driver pay, detention time, and truck parking, among other concerns.

Jim Stinson, Staff Reporter for Transport Topics, writes:

SAN DIEGO — For the third year in a row, the driver shortage is the top-ranked issue for trucking fleets, as they struggle to recruit and retain qualified drivers, according to the American Transportation Research Institute.

ATRI, the trucking industry’s not-for-profit research institute, unveiled its annual Top Industry Issues report Oct. 6, including a list of the Top 10 critical issues facing the North American trucking industry, here at American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition.

The hours-of-service rules remained the No. 2 issue in the survey for a second consecutive year, reflecting what ATRI and ATA officials said was the industry’s call for additional flexibility in the rules, particularly the sleeper berth provision.

The issues were discussed by a panel led by Rebecca Brewster, CEO of ATRI. Panelists were Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist; James Reed, CEO of USA Truck Inc.; and Gary Helms, a Covenant Transport driver and an ATA America’s Road Team captain for 2017-18.

Helms said the HOS rules were not flexible enough and did not take into account the sleeping habits of drivers. Helms also told an audience of about 500 that the rules, with their mandated rest breaks, has worsened truck parking.

But a driver shortage is the industry’s biggest challenge, Costello said, which could balloon to 105,000 drivers in 2023 and 160,000 drivers in 2028. If the shortage reaches 160,000, then the United States could see real disruptions in the supply chain, Costello said.

Two issues appeared on this year’s list for the first time, ones that also impact the industry’s ability to recruit and retain qualified drivers: driver compensation, and detention and delay at customer facilities.

Driver compensation ranked third and represents two sides to a complex issue: Motor carriers have raised driver pay significantly over the past year in response to the driver shortage and drivers who are concerned that their pay has not kept pace with inflation.

Costello noted that compensation shot up as the freight economy boomed in 2017 and the beginning of 2018. It’s not an issue that carriers can fix easily.

“How do walk those pay increases back?” Costello said. “I don’t think you can.”

Driver detention at customer facilities, making its list debut at No. 4, reflects growing industry concern over delays that create impacts for drivers’ HOS compliance, compensation and ability to find safe, available truck parking, according to ATRI.

The lack of available truck parking rounds out the top five issues but ranks third among commercial driver respondents after compensation and HOS rules.

Rounding out the list were No. 6 driver retention, No. 7 the electronic logging device mandate, No. 8 “Compliance, Safety, Accountability,” the data-driven safety compliance and enforcement program of the U.S. Department of Transportation, No. 9 infrastructure and congestion and No. 10, the overall U.S. economy.

The complete results of the annual survey were generated by more than 2,000 responses from motor carriers and commercial drivers.

Now in its 15th year, the ATRI Top Industry Issues report also includes prioritized strategies for addressing each issue.

To read the article on Transport Topics, click here.

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Transportation Agencies Re-open After Partial Government Shutdown

According to a recent article by Transport Topics, the DOT furloughed 16,501 workers. The government will shut down again in about three weeks if a fair deal on boarder security does not come to fruition.

The truce between congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump on Jan. 25 halting the longest federal government shutdown in history meant more than 16,000 staffers at the U.S. Department of Transportation will no longer be furloughed.

DOT furloughed 16,501 staffers across its agencies. The Federal Aviation Administration, for instance, furloughed the highest number of staffers at 13,944 during the shutdown. The Maritime Administration furloughed the fewest at 274, according to the department’s “Plan for Appropriation Lapse” guidance, revised as of Jan. 11.

Employees at the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration were not furloughed, due primarily to a funding structure backed by the Highway Trust Fund. The federal account operates on revenue generated from the 24.4-cents-per-gallon diesel tax and 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax.

DOT did not comment on the effect the 35-day partial shutdown may have had on transportation agencies.

The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent agency, announced its employees had resumed normal operations and were planning a way forward to conduct the work halted during the shutdown. It indicated 367 employees out of 397 employees had been furloughed.

After Trump announced the truce from the Rose Garden, members of Congress reported to the Capitol. The agreement to reopen the government for three weeks included establishing a bipartisan conference committee of senior lawmakers to negotiate a compromise on Trump’s $5.7 billion request for a border wall. The president insisted repeatedly Mexico would fund his campaign promise, before turning to taxpayers.

“Over the next 21 days, I expect that both Democrats and Republicans will operate in good faith. This is an opportunity for all parties to work together for the benefit of our whole beautiful, wonderful nation,” Trump said. “If we make a fair deal, the American people will be proud of their government for proving that we can put country before party. We can show all Americans, and people all around the world, that both political parties are united when it comes to protecting our country and protecting our people.”

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney indicated Trump would be ready to again shut agencies down if negotiations do not prove fruitful for the administration.

“Everybody wants to look at this and say the president lost. We’re still in the middle of these negotiations. He just agreed to open the government while that was going on. So the president takes this deadly seriously,” Mulvaney said on “Face The Nation” on Jan. 27.

On “Meet The Press” on Jan. 27, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York indicated his party would welcome an opportunity to collaborate with Republicans on “21st century” border security and other policies during the 116th Congress.

“We’ve said we’re going to fight hard for lower health care costs, to increase pay for everyday Americans, strengthen the Affordable Care Act, protect people with pre-existing conditions, enact a real infrastructure plan. We want to do that in a bipartisan way. Trillion-dollar infrastructure plan,” Jeffries noted. “We think it’ll create 16 million good-paying jobs. Republicans, Democrats, even the president has supported the notion that we’ve got to fix our broken infrastructure.”

Assessing the shutdown’s economic impact, the Congressional Budget Office announced that the gross domestic product was reduced by $3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018 “in relation to what it would have been otherwise,” while GDP is estimated to be $8 billion lower in the first quarter of 2019.

“In subsequent quarters, GDP will be temporarily higher than it would have been in the absence of a shutdown,” according to CBO.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow took issue with CBO’s assessment. Briefing reporters at the White House on Jan. 28, he said, “We frequently disagree with CBO.”

“I won’t acknowledge any of that right now. And, you know, in a $20 trillion economy, it’s awfully hard to make even the best guesstimates of those kinds of small fractions of numbers.”

To read the article on Transport Topics, click here.

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A Partial Government Shutdown Hangs in the Balance due to Continued Boarder Wall Debates

While political debates about the boarder wall between the US and Mexico have been going on for quite some time, Trump is now threatening a partial government shutdown if congress fails to advance spending for the wall by December 21. This would affect many transportation programs.

The threat of a partial government shutdown that would ensnare transportation programs looms as congressional Republicans and Democrats continue to disagree about President Donald Trump’s funding request for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

If lawmakers fail to advance a fiscal 2019 appropriations measure or a short-term spending fix by Dec. 21, funding for programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation — as well as other departments and agencies that oversee commerce, the environment and financial services — would be disrupted.

For instance, about 30% of DOT’s workforce would be furloughed, and 53,000 Transportation Security Administration staff would have to work without pay, Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee noted.

“By manufacturing a crisis over his wall, President Trump appears willing to shutter the doors of the … Department of Transportation, among others,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “He wants hard-working American taxpayers, not Mexico, to write him a check for $5 billion more, or he will shut the government down? Come on.”

If Congress does agree to advance House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2019 transportation funding bill, policy that would deny funding for certain requirements for electronic logging devices pertaining to livestock haulers would be approved.

This year, the livestock haulers industry raised concerns about ELD rules to members of Congress. The ELD mandate went into effect in December 2017. It requires commercial carriers to equip their trucks with ELDs to record hours of service.

Separately, senior Senate aides tell Transport Topics that autonomous vehicles policy legislation that does not include trucking-centric provisions is unlikely to advance in the lame-duck session.

Republican leaders insist their aim is to avoid a shutdown while acknowledging little progress since the recent enactment of a short-term funding measure keeping federal agencies operating through Dec. 21.

“We don’t know how long the discussion over the government funding issue is going to go on,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Dec. 11. His leadership team is pressing their Democratic counterparts over Trump’s $5 billion request for a border wall that the president had said Mexico would fund.

McConnell’s remarks came soon after Trump hosted congressional Democratic leaders at the White House. During the combative meeting with media present, the president expressed a commitment to fund the border wall even if it meant temporarily halting federal programs.

“I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it,” Trump said, speaking to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) “I’m going to shut it down for border security.”

Schumer said his caucus did not want to shut down the government. Most Democrats on Capitol Hill would support considerably less funding than Trump’s request for border security programs.

After the meeting with the president, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized the sentiment about a shutdown. As she put it, “The ‘Trump Shutdown’ is something that can be avoided, that the American people do not need, at this time of economic uncertainty, people losing jobs, the market in a mood and the rest.”

When the new Congress convenes in January, Democrats will manage the House and Republicans will keep control of the Senate.

McConnell will continue to serve as Senate leader. Pelosi is expected to be elected speaker for the second time during her service in Congress after she agreed to limit herself to two terms. This action was meant to calm concerns from newly elected members of the Democratic caucus who are seeking to change the status quo in Washington.

Read the article on Transport Topics by clicking here.

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