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Trucking hasn't done well in driver pay, Graves tells industry executives

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves said Thursday that today, being a truck driver is not a lucrative job. (The Trucker: APRILLE HANSON)

The Trucker Staff


DALLAS — Trucking has not done well in compensating its drivers, American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves told a room full of fellow industry executives Thursday morning.

“This will be one of the key factors we will have to face if we are going to overcome the driver shortage,” Graves said during an address at the Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference under way here in conjunction with the Great American Trucking Show. “But no one wants to hear about it.”

Being a truck driver is simply not a lucrative job, Graves said in presenting a series of facts that showed the situation surrounding the driver shortage, which the former two-term Kansas governor emphasized to the executives “is real.”

The recession brought driver demand and driver available to an almost identical point in 2010 at just below 1.6 million, Graves said, but the gap began widening the following year as the economy picked up and will continue to grow.

Trend lines show that by 2022, there will be a need for just under 2 million drivers, but unless something is done to ease the shortage, there will only be just over 1.7 million available.

“This is a very real problem. We are just going to have more freight to move as tonnage grows and the people have a need for more goods.

“Trust me. It’s going to eventually get there,” Graves said of the shortage forecast when some in the industry and outside the industry don’t believe will come to pass.

The biggest factors contributing to the increasing shortage will be retirements (37 percent) and industry growth (36 percent), ATA forecast data show. Non-voluntary departures at 16 percent and voluntary non-retirement departures at 11 percent will make up the remainders of the shortfall.

Trucking’s share of the pie will also contribute to the shortage, Graves said, noting that the industry currently transports 68.5 percent of the nation’s freight and that number will rise to 70.8 percent by 2024.

Truck driving pay simply has not kept up with the times, according to information Graves provided Thursday.

In 2012 dollars, the average truck driver made $900 a week in 1990.

It remained at around the $900 mark through the end of that decade, but by 2005, it had dropped to just under $800 and has climbed slowly since, but still hovers just above the $800 figure.

That’s a drop of 11 percent in real dollars, Graves noted.

“Driver compensation comes up at almost every major trucking association meeting in the United States,” one industry source told The Trucker. “Company executives readily agree with Graves assessment, but to date, no one has stepped out in a position of leadership to increase.”

Contributing to the pay issue is a drop in miles per month driven by the average truck, which has dropped from 10,946 miles in 2007 to 7,752 in 2012.

The number increase slightly in the first quarter of 2013, but still remains 26 percent below the 2007 level.

Since truck drivers are paid by the mile, that impacts their bottom line, Graves reminded the executives.

“The average length of haul is simply declining,” Graves said. “It has a lot to do with the density of the country, more (manufacturing) plants being built closer together, more distribution centers and people living closer together.”

In a wide-ranging address covering trucking, the political situation, economic conditions, regulatory and legal issues, Graves:

• Said President Barack Obama is talking the talk when it comes to transportation, but is not walking the walk. “He has been more outspoken about infrastructure investment than any president I can remember, but simply does not want to engage in finding ways to shore up funding.”

• Predicted that Congress would extend MAP-21 when it expires later this year and won’t address ways to fund infrastructure improvement. “It expires about the same time as the mid-term elections. Why would you want to support infrastructure funding,” Graves said.

• Predicted that new Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will continue the administration’s current push on livability (walking and biking trails) and high speed rail, “nothing to get excited about. I met him last week. He’s a fine young public servant, but I think he has political aspirations of his own and will not make political waves,” Graves said.

• Predicted Congress will not address the truck productivity, which could help ease the driver shortage and keep more trucks off the road. If there is a change, it will be adoption of twin 33-foot trailers, which are being pushed by FedEx. “Those who oppose us on truck productivity don’t say much about twin 33’s because FedEx carriers freight they wouldn’t,” Graves said.

• Said he was “bullish” on natural gas. It’s not a matter of if, but when NG will be widely accepted and used within the industry. “I am glad we have competition for fuel,” he said, adding that he didn‘t expect the price of diesel ever to go down much.

 the bullish on natural gas glad we have competition for fuel..nota mater of if but when satuate the industry.

• Said that while some think the Hours of Service issue is over because of the recent court ruling, not so. “We are going to work hard to create flexibility in the sleeper berth provision,” Grave said. He noted ATA had successfully protected the 11-hour driving limit.

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