In September there were 72,400 truck transportation jobs in Ohio, according to the Ohio Bureau of Labor Market Information.
Job want ad postings for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers were the second most common, after registered nurses, for Dayton region counties on Ohio’s jobs website for the month ending Sept. 13. There were 1,784 ads for drivers in the west region, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Chief among the inefficiencies in the supply chain cited by industry leaders: Truck drivers sometimes find themselves waiting for hours, not only to accept new freight but to drop those shipments off — what the industry calls “detention times.”
President Joe Biden recently announced a plan to have the Port of Los Angeles operate 24 hours a day, a directive meant to relieve the wait time for the dozens of container ships waiting offshore. And big shipping companies such as UPS and FedEx said they, too, will expand working hours.
But that’s one end of the problem, trucking advocates say. Time spent waiting at destinations is another issue.
“The problem is, the warehouses don’t run 24/7,” said Thomas Balzer, president and chief executive of the Ohio Trucking Association. “So you can take a container and put it on the truck at 3 a.m. But what are you going to do with it? They (warehouses, distribution centers, factories) run normal business hours. They could be closed.”
“The problems are more complex than just the ports,” he said.
An inefficiency ‘going back decades’
Nick Bartlett, owner of Spears Transfer & Expediting in Vandalia, has two sides to his business. On the expediting side, a customer is waiting for a shipment before the driver arrives. There’s not a lot of waiting time for the driver in that instance, he said.
On the truck-load and container side, Bartlett sees a different situation.
“I’ve got guys who go in to a container port and wait seven to nine hours on one container,” he said. “A lot of those are with coastal requirements. Some of them are at railheads, but not often. It’s mostly the coastal requirements.”
On the day Balzer spoke with the Dayton Daily News, more than 80 ships were waiting to unload at the Port of Los Angeles.
“It can take six to eight hours to get a container, one container, out of that port,” he said. “So that’s terribly inefficient when drivers are waiting that long.”
Kevin Burch, vice president of governmental affairs and sales for Martin Transportation Systems, said he sees a “gigantic slow-down of America’s goods.”
“We’ve had detention issues for 20-plus years,” Burch said. “But today it’s acutely a problem.”
Wait times are not necessarily a universal complaint, and the industry faces more than one challenge.
Anthony Rocco, chief operating officer at Dayton Freight Lines Inc., said detention times are worse, but they are not a large issue for his company’s industry segment, the time-sensitive “less than truckload” or LTL market.
Sometimes, his drivers are able to unload their relatively small deliveries themselves, Rocco said.
The biggest challenge now, in Rocco’s view: A lag in truck manufacturing, for the same reason that auto production is stymied — a lack of computer chips for vehicles.
“It’s going to be a shortage for the next year or so,” he predicted.
Terry Glacken, who works in sales for Springfield Cartage LLC, said detention times have not been a problem for his drivers, who drive all over the continental United States.
“You just get to know your customers after a while,” he said. “We haven’t noticed a big difference in that at all.”
Instead, turnover and finding new drivers is the issue, as it is for the entire industry, he said.
“That’s the whole industry-wide,” Glacken said. “That’s the No. 1 (issue). We could double our business if we had the drivers.”
“The truth of the matter is, trucking is not a job a lot of people aspire to anymore,” Bartlett said.
Spears has drivers who Bartlett said can earn $75,000 to $100,000 a year, while being home two nights a week and 90% of all weekends.
And it’s a job that will never be outsourced.
“It can’t go anywhere,” Bartlett said.
‘It is getting worse’
Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, sees two challenges facing truckers: A shortage of parking areas for trucks, especially in locales that draw lots of trucks. And too much time wasted on uncompensated detention times.
Truck drivers are mostly paid by the mile, she said. “Shippers and receivers have no disincentives to waste a truck driver’s time. They have no incentive to get them in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible. That’s been an inefficiency with the supply chain going back decades.”
Labor shortages on both ends of a trucker’s journey — receiving and delivering — have amplified problems. “It is getting worse,” Taylor said.
According to trucking industry consultant TAFS Inc., most shippers and receivers have a two-hour window to load and/or unload a truck. Any time spent outside those two hours is considered “detention.”
If trucking companies are working through a broker, detention rates can be negotiated with shippers and receivers, TAFS said.
But Bartlett said working with brokers doesn’t really address the issue. The key issue is port efficiency, in his view.
With U.S. Department of Transportation requirements, once a driver starts his truck and his vehicle inspection, he’s on “a limited time clock,” he said.
When a driver arrives at a place that requires long hours of waiting, his or her options for relief are limited, Bartlett added.
Burch said warehouses and distribution centers often don’t have enough people to adequately load, unload and reload drivers. Fork lift operators can be hard to find.
“Everything now is pretty much rolling inventory,” he said.
Current DOT requirements mandate that a driver may drive no more than 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty, or no more than 10 hours after eight consecutive hours off duty. There are exceptions for adverse conditions or short hauls.
“Two or three years ago, he might have been able to do five loads in an 11-hour day,” Bartlett said. “Now he’s getting one to one-and-a-half” loads.
One possible solution, as Taylor sees it: Do away with the exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act for trucking. That would meandrivers would be eligible to be paid overtime.
Staff Writer Lynn Hulsey contributed to this report.