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Better ‘pay would solve most’ critical issues: Readers’ priorities show variation from, similarity to recent rankings

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As we’ve done in some past years following release of the American Transportation Research Institute’s rankings of top fleet and driver “critical issues,” based on surveying of a wide variety of industry participants and reported on by Overdrive recently at this link, we took a similar list and asked readers to name what they thought would be their No. 1 concern. The results show some similarities to the rankings ATRI gave prominent issues, particularly when they separated out truckers’ concerns from those of fleet management and owners. (Keep in mind, ATRI’s using a more involved methodology in their rankings. The results that follow in the next chart here are from a single-answer poll, without the option of weighting each single issue.)

Overdrive readers’ top 10 paramount trucking issues 

Among drivers who chose “Other”, also an option in the poll, more than one named the need for better driver training tops — an issue not included directly as a critical issue in ATA-affiliated ATRI’s survey. At once, training efforts did figure in the “Driver ‘shortage'” and “Driver retention” issues discussions in ATRI’s publication, in part in the context of strategies toward solutions.Among drivers who chose “Other”, also an option in the poll, more than one named the need for better driver training tops — an issue not included directly as a critical issue in ATA-affiliated ATRI’s survey. At once, training efforts did figure in the “Driver ‘shortage'” and “Driver retention” issues discussions in ATRI’s publication, in part in the context of strategies toward solutions.

Richard Davis, commenting under the poll here at, echoed the thoughts of many others since the ELD mandate final rule reached enforcement stages late last year. “It’s really hard to pinpoint it to just one” issue, he said of the poll, but noted ELDs would be his choice — the devices have “started the conversation on a lot of other topics,” including “driver pay and detention and what drivers should be paid for” otherwise.

In ATRI’s overall survey, the Overdrive top 4 ranked this way:

  1. ELD mandateNo. 4 in ATRI’s overall rankings. “After full implementation of the ELD Mandate at the end of 2017,” the ATRI report’s authors wrote, “concern over the mandate’s implications have begun to abate, dropping this issue two places to fourth overall in 2018.” Davis, for his part, believed large carriers who pushed the mandate, however, might ought to be concerned, given wide ELD use has “opened up how drivers have been screwed for years” in area of the No. 4 most chosen top issue among Overdrive readers, compensation generally. “Time is more precious” in the wake of ELDs, Davis added. “So drivers should be paid for all their time, since they are required to work as they are, in a constant rush or hurry. You never know when you may need a precious minute before the day is out or later in the week.”
  2. Hours of serviceNo. 2 in ATRI’s overall rankings. A point of agreement between the two lists, here, as the ELD mandate has exposed for regulators what many truckers have contended for years — that the inflexibility of some aspects of the rules are incompatible with road realities. As regular readers well know, regulators have moved toward potentially making a change or series of changes to those rules in recent months as a result.
  3. Truck parkingNo. 5 in ATRI’s overall rankings. Clearly drivers place more emphasis on truck parking as a critical issue than fleet reps. As in our survey, among driver respondents in ATRI’s critical-issues study, parking rated highly (No. 2 most critical overall). This issue is clear evidence of the changing nature of ATRI’s rankings over the years with driver input. As Overdrive‘s reporting on ATRI’s rankings late last month noted: “Truck parking as a top industry issue only made the list in 2012, driven mostly by drivers’ feedback on the list’s compilation, says Rebecca Brewster, ATRI president. She said she doesn’t foresee the issue falling off the list ‘for a while,’ and says that it likely will become a more highly ranked issue for carriers, too.” There’s evidence here that the issue is rising in prominence for both fleets and drivers.
  4. Compensation / rates — Not directly in ATRI’s overall rankings. Independent owner-operators run at the mercy of supply and demand in freight markets, as do all carriers. However, the ups and down of the economy have a bigger effect for independents on the day-to-day ability to earn, hence high concern for rates being adequate to profit needs. For other drivers, compensation’s growth, meanwhile, has over the long term lagged the rate of inflation, as reporting over the last several years has made clear. While “the economy” does figure as a critical issue year-in year-out in the ATRI survey, issues of adequate driver compensation — and rates for independent truckers — doesn’t command the same direct attention. All the same, noted Barton Wayne Van Buskirk under Overdrive‘s poll, Better “pay would solve most” issues named, he believes, combined with better education and effective communication broadly speaking among trucking industry participants.

Would you be as concerned about current hours of service regs if adequately compensated for the time put in? Would ELD angst be as high as it is if you were taking in 100K-plus in income annually with one hooked up?

Pay is most definitely a principal underlying cause, many readers have long held, of the recruiting and retention difficulties so many fleets have. Those issues, characterized as “driver shortage” and “driver retention” in ATRI’s critical-issues report, ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in this year’s overall ATRI rankings (No. 5 and No. 6 in Overdrive‘s poll, as you can see above). In analysis of “proposed strategies” under the summary of the No. 1 “driver shortage” issue, notably, there’s a great deal of discussion of advocacy for laws to change to allow under-21 CDL drivers, there’s some discussion of the value of apprenticeship programs within the trucking industry to bring in new recruits, but there’s no mention whatsoever of trucking leading the way to better earning potential to put new financial luster on the work of trucking.

Under discussion of strategies to tackle the No. 3 “driver retention” issue in ATRI’s report, compensation is addressed, but principally in the context of understanding how a fleet’s compensation model affects productivity before moving to select a compensation strategy, as well as the effect of performance-type pay on retention.

Is it a wonder fleets have the problems they do keeping drivers around and attracting new ones?

With the tax reform legislation that went through in the last year and its sizable business windfalls expected, salaried employees all around the nation hoped to see companies of stripes move quickly on wage growth as a result. In trucking, as I reported earlier in the year around moves toward base-salary-type pay at fairly high levels, we have seen some moves in this area, but clearly it’s not been enough.

As reader Thomas Wingate put it, “Driver shortages? That’s a joke. How about the big trucking companies take care of the new drivers, and there will not be a shortage.”

A couple other highlights from top issues surveying:
**In ATRI’s report, “driver health and wellness” as an issue came in at No. 9 overall, prompting the notion that “of course driver health is of no concern to carriers,” as wrote a reader posting only as James, among other similar comments under reporting on ATRI’s results. While driver respondents to ATRI did rate it of more concern than did carriers there, few of Overdrive‘s mostly owner-operator readers rated it as their top concern. It fell outside of the top 10 at No. 11.  

**”Federal preemption” of state wage and hour rules for interestate truckers, the “formerly known as Denham amendment” issue out west (where large court judgments against mostly large — but some small, too — have required back pay for Calif.-required meal and rest breaks), with a similar dynamic on offer, ranked as a top-10 issue for motor carriers (No. 10) but didn’t hit the top 10 for drivers or in the overall rankings. Similarly, very few Overdrive readers named it as their top concern.

Find a breakdown of ATRI’s top issues over the years — from the overall rankings — below:

ATRI’s top-issues rankings over the years. You can download their full 2018 critical-issues report via this link.ATRI’s top-issues rankings over the years. You can download their full 2018 critical-issues report via this link.
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