Economic pain, not so-called 'driver shortage,' trucking's top concern for 2023: ATRI

Trucking news and briefs for October 16, 2023:

Economy-related issues tops for trucking in annual report 

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) released its 19th annual "Top Industry Issues" report, identifying trucking stakeholders' leading concerns, and it shows even amongst big fleets lessening buy-in to the "driver shortage" narrative of the last decades as rates and volumes sink. 

This year’s list of biggest concerns overall was topped by the wider U.S. economy and truck parking with related issues of fuel prices and driver compensation not too terribly far behind them.This year’s list of biggest concerns overall was topped by the wider U.S. economy and truck parking with related issues of fuel prices and driver compensation not too terribly far behind them.ATRI

With the U.S. economy and truck parking topping the list across survey respondents among motor carriers and truck operators, for the first time zero-emission vehicles rated on the list with newly aggressive timelines in California and elsewhere for a mandated, wholesale powertrain transition. 

ATRI divides the survey results into those from fleets and those from individual drivers, and this year saw the "driver shortage" drop to second on fleets' list, after being their top concern in 2022. The ATA maintains the industry faces a shortage of 78,000-some drivers, and that by 2030 that number could hit 160,000. The ATRI survey shows this narrative has at least somewhat fallen out of favor with the big fleets. 

“ATRI’s list thoroughly and accurately reflects the challenges we’ve faced this year,” said ATA Chairman Dan Van Alstine, Ruan Transportation Management Systems President and COO, with ATRI's announcement of these results over the weekend. â€śCosts were up and demand was down, all while we worked to navigate a number of workforce and regulatory issues. Thankfully, ATRI’s analysis doesn’t just tell us what the issues are, it spells out a number of data-driven strategies that the industry can pursue to address them.” 

2023 has been a year full of challenges for trucking business large and small, as high inflation, rising operating costs, and declining freight demand have reduced real earnings for owner-operators. Surveyed on their own top issues here at OverdriveOnline.com, owner-operators in some ways reflect the broad economic concern shown in ATRI's list of top issues.

[Related: If your trucking income's taken a beating this down cycle, you're not alone]

In ATRI's results, the shortage of available truck parking achieved its highest rank to date on the overall list, ATRI said, with its overall second-place finish.  

A number of aggressive mandates and timelines for transitioning the nation’s vehicle fleet to low- or zero-emission vehicles put that issue on the top 10 list for the first time. 

Commercial drivers v. Motor carriers: Concerns noted in ATRI top-issues reportAs an issue, zero-emission vehicles ranked 10th overall and 7th among motor carrier respondents. Over 47 percent of the survey respondents were motor carrier executives and personnel, while truck drivers represented 29 percent. Among driver respondents, similarly to Overdrive's own polling, compensation, truck parking and fuel prices were the top three concerns.ATRI

More than 4,000 trucking industry stakeholders participated in this year’s top-issues survey, ATRI said, including motor carriers and truck operators, various suppliers, driver trainers, law enforcement and others. For the first time ever, law enforcement personnel represented nearly five percent of respondents, so the report includes a ranking of the top three law enforcement concerns. Readers can download the full report via this link. 

[Related: Will trucking turn positive for owner-operators anytime soon? ATBS data point the way forward]

Biden pushes $7B from highway bill to 'hydrogen hubs'

President Joe Biden's administration on Friday announced $7 billion in funding from the 2021 infrastructure funding legislation to "accelerate the domestic market for low-cost, clean hydrogen" with seven "hydrogen hubs" around the country. 

Biden's White House said the $7 billion will kick off another $40 billion in private investment for a nearly $50 billion push to "produce more than three million metric tons of clean hydrogen per year, thereby achieving nearly one third of the 2030 U.S. clean hydrogen production goal."

Hydrogen fueling infrastructure is virtually nonexistent outside of California as of yet. The seven hubs, spaced pretty evenly throughout the country, will aim to produce and distribute the fuel regionally. 

The California Hydrogen Hub especially seeks to produce hydrogen exclusively from renewable energy and biomass, and to "provide a blueprint for decarbonizing" trucking and port operations. 

The Biden administration stressed that the hubs stand to eventuate in tens of thousands of jobs, but Marion Gee, co-executive director at the Climate Justice Alliance, called the hubs a "corporate scam." Gee called for the White House to "work to move capital and power into the hands of local communities who will center traditional ecological and cultural knowledge and create a pathway toward a regenerative future.” 

[Related: Hight Logistics: Among small fleets, 'definitely one of the first' proving out battery-electric in drayage]

Atlas marks 75-year milestone in business

Atlas World Group, a family of companies including Atlas Van Lines, marked 2023 as its 75th year in business with a celebratory event on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at the Atlas World Group headquarters in Evansville, Indiana.

Following Atlas Van Lines’ founding in 1948, the company relocated to Evansville in 1959. Speaking at the anniversary celebration in Evansville, Jack Griffin, Chairman and CEO of Atlas World Group, said “Atlas has seen its fair share of challenges, from the uncertainty in the 1970s and 1980s to today’s market insecurities. Our perseverance and outlook toward the future will keep us steady for the next 75 years and all the opportunities that come along the way.”

Atlas has also seen its share of successes throughout the years, including five major acquisitions since 2000 with Champion International Moving, Ltd., TopHAT Logistical Solutions, and Progressive Transportation, LLC, in the past four years alone, the company said. Throughout its history, Atlas has been recognized for tech innovation, sustainability, and business, as well as its philanthropic initiatives such as working with Habitat for Humanity, aiding victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Ian, partnering with Wounded Warrior Project and the American Heart Association, and raising funds and awareness for Truckers Against Trafficking. 

[Related: Military HHG movers take fight to D.C. over single-source GHC contract]

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