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What’s Trending in Transportation on the State Level? Driver Shortage and New Legislation Remain at Forefront

The past year and a half has brought unprecedented change and challenges to nearly every industry. As we look to what’s ahead, leaders at several trucking associations discuss issues important to their members as they steer toward 2022. While there are some new industry priorities, one long standing industry challenge refuses to go away.

In transportation, long-standing industry problems remain at the forefront. Although summer headlines were full of stories about ransomware and infrastructure, the driver shortage remained a leading concern.

“If I've heard it once. I've heard it one hundred times: if only I had ten more drivers, I'd start them today,” said John Hausladen, President and CEO of Minnesota Trucking Association (MTA). “Carriers are hyper-focused on taking advantage of business opportunities today, and the workforce is the key factor in making all of that work.”

Hausladen also noted the shortage of technicians is also having an impact: “This is important for both return facilities and fleets, because we value uptime more than anything. Having a vehicle breakdown in transit causes a world of problems.” 

He acknowledged getting people to think about technical careers is a difficult task, despite the fact that the field offers “high paying jobs that have great stability and are continuing to evolve to meet new technology." MTA is working with the state in efforts to address the challenge in new ways.

Addressing the Driver Shortage Issue

For Barbara (Hunt) Smithers, Vice President with Indiana Motor Truck Association (IMTA) since 2011, the driver shortage and retention has been a factor throughout her three-decade-plus career in the industry. 

“The pandemic and regulations just sped up what was already happening,” said Smithers before providing a stark portrait of the situation: “If you ask any carrier in Indiana they will tell you they have at least one truck sitting. Depending on their size, many will tell you they can’t find drivers for at least 10 to 15 trucks. One of our larger members has 150 trucks sitting. We just talked to them last week. You can ask anyone, and they'll tell you they've got the equipment, they've got the freight. They just don't have drivers they can put behind the wheel.”

To make an impact on the now decadeslong problem, both Smithers and MTA’s Hausladen said their members are strong supporters of the federal DRIVE-Safe Act, which would create a national apprenticeship program for drivers. 

“We can’t hire people under the age of twenty-one, and they aren’t sitting around waiting to turn twenty-one so they can be a truck driver. They’ve already started another trade as a technician or gone into construction.”

As a positive step by Indiana toward the future, Smithers cited the recently launched CDL+ program for commercial truck drivers created by Conexus Indiana and Ivy Tech Community College in partnership with IMTA and Venture Logistics. The training program is the first of its kind in the nation offering eligibility for federal student loans, credit toward a logistics degree, and internships.

Sheri Call, Executive Vice President of the Washington Trucking Associations, also led with the driver shortage, by saying: “Given the times and what society has experienced for the last 16 months, what is acute and emerging right now is the driver shortage. I've got state agencies calling me asking, ’How can we solve the driver shortage?’ and I'm explaining to them that I’ve been with WTA for 20 years and this has always been an issue. Now we're at the intersection of national disasters and a pandemic, making it seem much more acute.”

New Legislation to Potentially Impact Trucking Industry

Call also said legalization of marijuana in Washington state was contributing to the driver shortage.

Hausland voiced concern of the same happening in Minnesota if the state legalizes marijuana for recreational purposes, adding legalization will have “a major impact on safety, insurance costs, liability settlements, jury awards. All of these things. We think it's a very bad idea.”

Smithers, Hausland, and Call named the shortage of parking spaces for trucks as another serious and growing problem. The city of Minneapolis is trying to ban all on-street parking of trucks bigger than 26,000 pounds, which could force truckers to choose between a home and a livelihood. Indiana’s Department of Transportation (INDOT) is adding 1,100 spaces to their facilities in addition to an existing 1,400, but the state has more than a million trucks a day on its roads and highways. Call noted how electronic logging devices (ELDs) have exacerbated the issue for drivers, giving them less time to find a suitable place to park their trucks.

Also important in Washington is the ongoing push to allow operation of triple trailer combinations. Call’s state is the only one along the I-90 corridor that doesn’t allow triple-trailers, forcing trucks entering Washington from Idaho and Oregon to stop and reconfigure their loads outside the state’s borders. The result is longer delivery times and more greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to exacerbating the driver shortage.

Meanwhile, California Trucking Association (CTA) CEO Shawn Yadon is focused on an issue he says could disrupt the livelihood of 70,000 independent owner-operators: California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), which aims to define the difference in worker status between employees and independent contractors. As the bill is currently written, drivers who are owner-operators would be classified as employees, while workers in dozens of other fields would be allowed to remain independent contractors.

CTA has taken legal action, creating a case that’s gained nationwide attention, and seems destined to eventually end up before the US Supreme Court.

“More often than not, an individual who has purchased a truck and is out there operating independently [has] at some time in their career been an employee. They consciously chose to go out and strike out on their own and create their own business. That model for trucking has worked, and is vital to the future of this industry. We have to protect it, and that's why the California Trucking Association has challenged AB5 in the courts,” concluded Yadon.

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