Trucking Is In The Slow Lane

One of the local radio stations occasionally likes to play clusters of songs with a common theme. On a recent drive home, they aired a block that included "Truckin'" by the Grateful Dead, "Keep on Truckin'" by Eddie Kendricks, and "Convoy," a 1975 novelty tune from C.W. McCall about a line of 18-wheelers using citizens band radios to outwit state troopers.

This seemed like an omen. The next day, I began looking into conditions in the trucking industry, and what I discovered was, indeed, ominous.

We have written several times recently about the bottlenecks being experienced by global logistics. Factories, ports, and railroads have all been struggling with impairments caused by COVID-19. But the last miles of delivery are typically traversed by a truck of some size. And the pandemic has wrought havoc with those networks, too.

For one thing, there is a shortage of drivers. This is not a new challenge; overland shippers were struggling with recruiting prior to the pandemic. The job is physically demanding, requires extensive absences from home, and pays poorly. Operators are aging, and young people are not interested in taking their places. The abrupt shutdown caused by COVID-19 reduced employment among truckers by almost 90,000. 25,000 drivers have yet to return, despite a bevy of job listings and heavy inducements. Efforts to recruit drivers from overseas are now underway.