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Why shipping costs are through the roof

By
Craig Levitt, managing editor

Long and lonely days and nights in cramped quarters isn’t the best recruitment poster. That is the part of the dilemma facing the trucking industry. Drivers have been in short supply for years, and it is getting worse.

American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello said the current driver shortage has risen to 80,000 — an all-time high for the industry. “A thing to note about the shortage is that before the pandemic, we were adding drivers to the industry — even though we had a shortage, more people were entering the industry,” Costello said. “The issue is that new entrants into the industry didn’t keep up with demand for goods.”

While all sectors in the industry struggle with finding enough drivers, the driver shortage is most acute in the longer-haul for-hire truckload market.

There is no single cause of the driver shortage, but some of the primary factors include:

  • High average age of current drivers, which leads to a high number of retirements;
  • Women making up only 7 percent of all drivers, well below their representation in the total workforce;
  • Inability of some would-be and current drivers to pass a drug test, a problem exacerbated by an increasing number of states legalizing marijuana (a substance still banned federally);
  • The pandemic caused some drivers to leave the industry
  • Lifestyle issues, notably time away from home, especially in the longer-haul market;
  • Infrastructure and other issues, like a lack of truck parking spots, which causes drivers to stop driving earlier than they need to so they can get a spot for the night, and congestion which limits drivers’ ability to safely and efficiently make deliveries.

This dearth of drivers is among several reasons why shipping costs are through the roof. The increase in cost is obviously having a significant effect on the nation’s retailers as they are not only forced to pay more for product, they are often struggling to keep shelves stocked.  

Just as often as not, a shopper walking through a produce department is greeted by bare shelves instead of their favorite fruit or vegetable. When an item is there, sticker shock may set in.

Take lettuce for example. Between the purchase price and shipping charges lettuce at some retailers is reaching $5-6 a head, making it easy for consumers to walk away. So, what is a produce manager to do?

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