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The Truck Driver Shortage for Small Truckers

There’s a truck driver shortage in the trucking industry, but it may not be a bad thing for small trucking companies.

It’s been a problem that’s received significant press over the last couple of years: even as general unemployment remains a problem for the economy as a whole, the Wall Street Journal reports that the trucking industry continues to experience a driver shortage. At the time of this post, there were an estimated 25,000 unfilled trucking jobs in America, and, according to a report from the American Transportation Association, that shortfall could increase tenfold over the next decade.

There are a couple of possible reasons for the shortage. The WSJ article mentioned above suggests that it’s possible that younger drivers simply don’t like the idea of life on the road. It’s also possible that the federal regulations enacted in 2013 have played a role; since the new driving-time rules took effect, drivers are forced to stay on the road longer, but at the same pay rates. Another commenter suggested that a construction boom is contributing to the driver supply problems: individuals who would otherwise drive trucks have changed industries, and are working work locally.

Regardless of the cause of the continuing shortage, what does this mean for trucking companies in the short- and medium-term? It makes sense that a weak labor supply will have upward pressure on prices – in other words, driver wages will generally increase as trucking companies compete to hire a smaller pool of drivers. This would help drivers, of course; but it may also help smaller trucking companies.

As wages go up, over time, the price of loads will rise – that’s an obvious benefit. And as larger truckers are constrained by a dwindling driver supply, they’ll be able to deliver fewer loads. Copeland Trucking, as reported in the WSJ article referenced above, have been “turning away business because of unfilled openings.” These loads still need to be moved, and it may mean that flexible smaller companies can fill the gaps created by larger companies’ inability to hire drivers, as more loads become available.

The driver shortage is real, and it may not be going anywhere. But it may, in the long run, be a good problem to have for small companies.

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