The task of safely moving the bulk of America’s goods from one location to its ultimate destination has long relied on the professional truck driver. For decades, the nation has depended on these hard-working and reliable individuals to transport freight from ports to warehouses and distribution centers to retail locations.
A New Level of Dependence
That dependence has reached a new level of importance during the pandemic and current supply chain issues. Additionally, many trends have and will affect the role of the truck driver and trucking industry. Going into 2022, truckers will see even more changes and new demands as part of carrying out their tasks. Many of these will be positive for truckers and push up both demand and anticipated compensation. Others present opportunities and challenges that will, in many ways, reshape the industry and the role of the driver.
While there are no reliable crystal balls, below are a discussion of 5 trends that will help every driver anticipate how they will be affected in the coming months:
Growing Role of Technology. Truckers have already seen the elimination of paper logs, the use of new tracking and routing capabilities, and the addition of many new safety features that come from rapidly evolving technology. However, those changes are expected to escalate and more “smart” solutions will become commonplace in trucks and how they are operated. The role of software and related technologies, such as data analytics in tracking and managing the logistics chain, will increase as companies respond to the desire for customers to have access to full “tracking an order.” The ultimate impact of technology is, of course, the autonomous vehicles that will become more visible by the end of the decade.
Reorienting Distribution and Production Facilities. The restructuring of the industry (see Mergers and Bankruptcies below) is providing companies with the opportunity to reconsider how they locate their hubs. They are responding to many logistics chain factors, including the building of massive new warehousing and distribution facilities. Also, the various types of units (reefers, flatbeds, dry vans, and others) are seeing more centralized production and utilization and this is another part of that unprecedented shift in logistics.
Fuel Costs. Operators have always dealt with the reality that fuel is a major component of their costs. While there have been constant ups and downs in market prices driven by demand and supply, other factors are now coming into play. The drive to alternative fuels and even electric vehicles will gain new momentum in 2022 and will be an issue for larger firms in the industry.
Mergers and Bankruptcies. The bad news in 2021 concerning large and small trucking companies is that an unusually high number of them failed, and some of the larger established firms merged with other players. That cost the loss of an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 established trucking jobs. The good news in this is the driver shortage means those jobs should be easily replaced by other firms. Additionally, these consolidations are adding new efficiencies and eliminating inefficiencies throughout the industry. It is also speeding the implementation of technology in many areas and allows more efficient routing, among other advantages.
Pricing Adjustments. Few people realize the bargain they have enjoyed with abnormally low trucking rates and prices. That has depressed overall compensation for commercial truckers. The core issue for 2022 is whether growing demand will see prices increase or if logistics chain snags or other factors depress the current market or prevent that growth. The ongoing impact of e-commerce is one of the trends that is expected to encourage more demand for trucking capacity at local and national levels.
A final factor for the market is the recently passed infrastructure bill and the new investment in roads and bridges that should become a force by mid-to-late 2022. As drivers know, this may have a short-term negative effect while producing a long-term benefit.