Will the trucker shortage glitch Cyber Monday?

A trucking industry trade group warns that, once again, the US faces a shortage of truckers for the holiday season.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
Trucks line up at the Port of Long Beach, in Long Beach, California in October.

Cyber shoppers sitting smugly in front of their computers on Black Friday as thousands camp out in the cold to get holiday deals my feel a bit less comfortable knowing that a trucking shortage and logistical issues could keep some Cyber Monday purchases from arriving on time.

It may be virtually impossible for sellers to keep all the delivery promises made to cyber shoppers given the shipping industry’s ongoing lack of truck drivers.

The proliferation of technology designed to streamline online shopping, such as the Christmas List for iOS and TGI Cyber Monday for both iOS and Android, makes it easier than ever to do your holiday shopping online. And the brisker the Cyber Monday sales, the more real world trucks will have to be on the road.  This could pose a problem: The American Trucking Associations estimates that the US is short 30,000 truck drivers.

Ninety percent of carriers said they couldn't find enough drivers who met Department of Transportation criteria, according to a study cited by the ATA. 

According to DMV.org, a privately operated website that posts information about state motor vehicle agencies, qualifying for a Commercial Driver’s License is no simple matter.

“To become a commercial driver you need more than a driver’s license and a love for the open road. Like any career, it requires careful planning and consideration,” the DMV site cautions.  

FedEx has invested billions of dollars into our network to accommodate growth. In the past five years, FedEx Ground has invested close to $2.5 billion on projects related to growing our capacity—things like expansions and new facilities,” Bonny Harrison, FedEx Global Media Relations, wrote in an email in response to being asked how the shipping giant copes with the e-commerce influx. “Another $1.2 billion has been projected for this fiscal year, which we are in the middle of now.”

Harrison adds, “We are also hiring 50,000 seasonal workers to prepare for the volume, which is propelled by online shopping, and we will run a seven-day operation during the holiday season.  We have also been in close collaboration with our retail customers to ensure we have an accurate reading of what they’re volumes will look like.”

The lack of qualified truck drivers is not new, and is in fact easing somewhat. 

“While high, turnover at large truckload carriers is lower than other years when the driver shortage was as acute. In 2005, turnover averaged 130%. In 2006, another year with a tight driver market, turnover averaged 117% for this group of carriers,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello wrote on the ATA website. 

Turnover at small truckload fleets slipped 1 point in the first quarter of the year to 78%, which was the second lowest rate during the past year. In 2005 and 2006, turnover averaged 96% and 109%, respectively, for this group.

Improved economic growth and healthier freight volumes will only put more pressure on the driver market and the driver shortage, the site notes.

“Today, the industry has in the range of 30,000 to 35,000 unfilled truck driver jobs,” Mr. Costello said. “As the industry starts to haul more because demand goes up, we’ll need to add more drivers – nearly 100,000 annually over the next decade – in order to keep pace.”

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