The 2020 shortfall of truck drivers during the COVID-19 pandemic has centered on an ongoing industry discussion of how to find, hire, and keep drivers. “Pay can fix the short-term problem, but long-term we have to change the job,” Shelley Simpson, Executive Vice President, Chief Commercial Officer, and President of highway services at J.B. Hunt Transport Services, said at the virtual JOC Inland Distribution Conference in November 2020. “We need better visibility; we need a connected network,” she said. “That’s not a Star Wars idea.”
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Freight Lab has conducted research showing that truck drivers on average spend only about 6.5 hours a day driving out of 11 available hours. Time spent driving, rather than waiting at a dock, means increased truck capacity, David Correll, MIT research scientist and co-director of the Freight Lab, said. Correll is excited by what happens “if we turn the dials on the appointment windows”— i.e., allowing drivers to arrive earlier or later and speeding the loading and unloading of trailers. Discussing the Freight Lab’s recent work with a company shipping to retail stores, he said that by using flexible appointment windows, those receiving locations “that were getting trucks through in one to two hours got themselves to less than an hour.” He said the data suggests weekend management is a strong solution, with facilities staying open on weekends and spreading out staffing to facilitate truck moves.
Shippers who spoke during the JOC Inland Distribution event recognized the importance of loading and unloading more quickly. “I don’t think we spend enough time as shippers thinking about the driver in that truck,” said Laura Eory, Senior Manager of Transportation at manufacturer GAF. “We should do anything we can in the next year, especially as we continue to deal with COVID, to put ourselves in that driver’s seat and think about what we would want shippers to do to make it easier to deliver.”