‘Chronic Underutilization’ of America’s Trucking Capacity Means 40 Percent Is ‘Left on the Table Every Day’: MIT Expert
An expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) told lawmakers at a Nov. 17 congressional hearing that holdups at pickup and delivery points are causing a chronic underutilization problem impacting U.S. long-haul truck drivers, leading to 40 percent of America’s trucking capacity being “left on the table every day.”
David Correll, a research scientist at MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics, blamed “conventions for scheduling and processing” around pickup and delivery appointments for drastically reducing the amount of time truck drivers actually spend driving.
Correll told lawmakers at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing that America’s long-haul drivers are “seriously underutilized,” driving an average of 6.5 hours a day even though safety regulations allow them to drive 11 hours.
“This chronic underutilization problem does not seem to be a function of what the drivers themselves do or don’t do, but rather an unfortunate consequence of our conventions for scheduling and processing the pickup and delivery appointments,” Correll added.
Crunching the numbers, Correll said, “implies that 40 percent of America’s trucking capacity is left on the table every day,” adding that this is “especially troubling during times of perceived shortage and crisis, like we find ourselves now.”
Correll said that adding just 18 minutes of driving time, on average, to each of America’s 1.8 million truck drivers every day “could be enough to overcome what many of us feel is a driver shortage.”
Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, asked Correll to clarify the 18-minute estimate, which the lawmaker called an “extraordinary figure.”
The MIT expert explained that the origin of the calculation is an extrapolation based on the ATA number of 80,000 drivers short, which represents around 4.5 percent of all 1.8 million existing truck drivers in the United States, a figure based on U.S. Census Bureau data.
The question is “how do we add 4.5 percent back to our existing population instead of bringing in a new headcount,” Correll said. “And if we do that, it’s only 18 minutes.”
“So the idea of that calculation is to look at the estimate of the shortage and look at a solution that is not raising headcount but raising utilization,” he added.
In context of Correll’s estimate, DeFazio asked ATA President and CEO Chris Spear, who also took part in the hearing, what could be done to reduce trucker detention time around pickups and deliveries.
“It’s a relationship that we have to improve with those who we’re picking up from,” Spear said.
“There’s instances that we’ve had where our drivers aren’t even allowed to park on their property unless it’s within a defined period of time and if they’re late or in traffic and get there and miss their window—they have to wait longer.”
“These folks are moving 72.5 percent of the domestic freight in this country, and they’re heroes,” Spear continued. “They’ve been doing it throughout the pandemic. When everybody ran for cover, these folks got in their trucks and got the job done. They restocked the shelves and now they’re moving the vaccine. So for them to be treated like this, to wait indefinitely, is a serious problem.”
“It’s measurable and it is impactful,” Spear said. “That time reduces the clock that they could drive.”
Spear noted that part of what’s reducing driving time is traffic congestion, which he said he hopes the new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will alleviate.
“That number should go up as you spend less time in traffic. Detention is still an issue,” he said, adding that it’s something that “we’re going to have to work with folks in our supply chain to resolve because it’s just not tenable, it’s not sustainable to have drivers wait that long and run their clocks down, it’s not productive for the entire economy.”
Anne Reinke, President and CEO of the Transportation Intermediaries Association, who also took part in the hearing, concurred with the view that it’s a “relationship issue.”
“We’re only as good as the relationships we have with our shippers, on the one hand, and the motor carriers on the other, so it doesn’t do any good to have the carriers waiting outside,” Reinke told the panel, adding that a labor shortage in the warehousing sector was adding to the woes.
The trucking industry’s problems have resonated across supply chains and through other dependent businesses, contributing to the supply-side snarls that have led to product shortages on shelves and pushed up prices for consumers.