Group disputes truck driver shortage claim

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(The Center Square) — While Georgia state lawmakers are looking for solutions to what they say is a commercial truck driver shortage, an industry trade group says the concern is with turnover, not shortages.

The head of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association tells The Center Square that “the biggest problem that occurs in trucking is driver turnover,” saying 400,000 new commercial driver’s licenses are issued annually.

“Trucking companies are forever looking to recruit new drivers, even when they don’t have the business that would sustain the need for new drivers,” Todd Spencer, the group’s president, said. “They’re always anticipating that if we had more drivers, we have the capability of expanding and taking on new business. Part of the reason that they have the luxury of doing this is that there really are no fixed costs of having drivers.”

Spencer said drivers are paid “almost exclusively” for miles driven. Therefore, he said, companies with additional drivers, without enough business, won’t give as many miles to “extra drivers.”

“The company could still be very profitable like that because, again, the biggest cost is going to be paying drivers,” Spencer said. “If you pay them by the mile and you didn’t work them, you didn’t have the cost.”

The Georgia Senate has established the Senate Study Committee on Truck Driver Shortages, citing an American Trucking Associations finding that the industry will have to recruit nearly 1.2 million new drivers over the next decade because of industry growth and to replace drivers who leave or retire.

“We acutely felt this struggle when the pandemic hit in 2020 and 2021,” Hafiz Chandiwala, chief administrative officer for Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, told the committee during a hearing last month.

“We all felt the shortfall, wages increasing with the government intervention on compensation for individuals,” Chandiwala added. “We just really felt a shortfall, really couldn’t source enough drivers at all during that period of time, and there was a significant shortfall then. It’s gotten better, but it’s still not an issue that is solved, and we have more work to do.”

While Spencer disputed the assertion that there is a driver shortage, that’s not to say the government doesn’t have a role to play. Spencer said officials should explore policies that help the industry, such as creating parking for drivers between shifts.

“If your shortage is going to be based on drivers leaving [or] retiring [and] is going to be 120,000 a year, and you’re already creating between four and 500,000 new drivers every year, you don’t have a shortage, you’ve got a surplus,” Spencer said. “The problem that carriers are experiencing or having is retention. They can’t keep those drivers.

“And by actually being a party to increasing the number of new people applying for those jobs, you’re actually exacerbating the problem because, again, you’re feeding the churn.”

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