Where have all the drivers gone?

Whether carriers buy more trailers and tractors, dedicated contracts are arranged or private fleets beefed up to meet capacity issues, it will still take a driver to move the equipment. In that regard, there is understanding at every level of transportation in the U.S. that there is a real shortage of drivers (see chart, "Drivers vs Truckloads").

Transportation analyst FTR Associates (www.ftrassociates.com) monitors a variety of areas, including the movement of freight by mode of transportation, trailer factory shipments and driver labor market indicators. In examining driver data, Eric Starks, FTR's president, doesn't see any short-term improvement in the labor market with regard to trucking.

"We expect the driver shortage to continue all through the year and that shortage rates will continue to climb," Starks says.

Starks notes that not only is competition for labor coming from construction, it's coming from general retail as well. He looks at the construction, manufacturing and retail sectors playing a competitive part. In his view, however, there is reason to expect the situation to improve, albeit not this year.

"As we look out to next year and throughout 2006, we expect the trucking industry to have all the drivers in place they need, but they will have to fight like dogs to get them and keep them."

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