You're Asking the Wrong Question


Yes, I realize that this blog is being published on April 15th. I am writing it on April 11th . Sometime today or tomorrow I will be sending over a large portion of my small fortune to the government. It is not one of my favorite things to do. I may shed a tear as the vision of that new Electra Glide leaves my mind with one click of my mouse. Paying taxes is not fun. It is necessary. How we collect and spend that money is open for discussion.


Last week I attended Congressman Reid Ribble's Transportation Symposium. It was an honor to be invited. Having our voices heard matters. We tend to think of transporting freight as just trucking. It is not. We forget that we do not operate in a vacuum. Trucking is a vital cog. We compete with and work with pipelines, water based transportation, and the railroads. Learning about the other modes of moving freight is fascinating. Each segment of the freight industry has its strengths and weaknesses. We all face issues. Some of those issues are completely different. Some are remarkably similar.


The aviation panel consisted of David Greene from the Wisconsin DOT, Abe Miller the Outagamie (Appleton) Airport executive, and Tom Miller of Austin Straubel (Green Bay). As a quick aside they were all licensed pilots. Wouldn't be cool if an expert panel on trucking issues consisted entirely of people who were licensed to drive a truck? They are facing a pilot shortage. The reasons for the pilot shortage have similarities to the trucker shortage. It is largely economic. A new pilot makes less than a new trucker. Their education can be more than 10 times as much as a trucker's. Imagine starting your trucking career with $65,000 in student debt and making less than $30,000 per year – there's your pilot shortage.


Of course the discussion of trucking turned to our fake driver shortage. Congressman Ribble asked a trucking executive why aren't we getting enough young people to become drivers. Ribble went on to how he thinks we should fund the Highway Trust Fund. He believes in getting rid of the Federal Excise Tax on new trucks and getting rid of tollways. He believes that the fuel tax is the best economic solution. I totally agree with him on that and I stood up and told him why. Both tolls and the Federal Excise tax are barriers to efficiency, while the fuel tax encourages efficiency and is also the most economical tax to collect.


I got a chance to question Congressman Ribble in front of the group. I told him that he was asking the wrong question. The question is not how do we attract more drivers, it is how do we keep them. We have to stop the lie that we do not recruit enough people to this profession. We need to face the truth. The average NFL career lasts longer than the average truck driving career. We are constantly churning new drivers because we do not train or treat them well enough. We need to face the truth and do better.



Comments (8)

Jeff Clark

Jeff Clark of Kewaunee, WI has been driving a truck for 24 years. He has been an owner operator for 11 years.

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Paul - I could not agree any more on the pay issue. I look at it this way - If you were willing to pay $1,000,000 per year - would you have enough drivers. If the answer is YES - then it is a pay issue. Obviously pay is not the only issue-but it is certainly near the top of the list/

May 13, 2015 20:20:34 PM

Good article. Anyone who is concerned with a shortage of pilots or truckers should read Adam Smith's book, "The Wealth of Nations". Not just a few select parts, but the whole book. There is not shortage of Pilots or Truck Drivers, only a shortage of pay for the work that needs to be done. If you could make more money working for Walmart or McDonalds, would you be a pilot or a truck driver? I don't think so. Truck driving may really be your calling, but you have to eat. Money doesn't talk, it shouts.

May 05, 2015 20:07:28 PM

The way that we are moving freight is just beginning to change. When it becomes more expensive for a driver to wait for freight than freight wait for the driver, it will change.

April 25, 2015 3:48:18 AM

Kurt from some of the income we are seeing per mile to pick up emergency freight to keep a plant running or something working until a big truck can get there something is going on.

April 19, 2015 6:08:21 AM

Until there is proof that freight is sitting around not being hauled, there is no shortage.

April 18, 2015 21:30:39 PM

Thanks Linda and Craig: It was truly humbling to be invited to this seminar. It is important that we recognize the true reasons for the driver "shortage". It seems to be that we keep on trying to turn up the faucet without closing the drain.

April 18, 2015 5:37:17 AM

You are one step closer to changing your "office" setting Jeff! Thank you for taking the time off of work to attend and representing our industry. I support you!

April 15, 2015 8:40:18 AM

Could not agree more Jeff it is not how to get more but how to keep what we have. The revolving door is going as fast as it can, spitting drivers out faster then it can get drivers in. It is much cheaper to work on retention instead of recruiting.

April 15, 2015 5:01:11 AM