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DG&A's Transportation Consulting Blog

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We have been hearing about the possibility of a trucking capacity shortage for several years. While there have been sporadic shortages in specific geographic areas, for particular modes, the predicted massive shortage never materialized. This year may be different.

Two major hurricanes caused major damage to homes and infrastructure in Texas, Florida and adjoining areas. Drivers and trucks are required in these areas to transport building materials, appliances, electric grids, and other needed supplies. Some drivers will likely take construction jobs to aid with the rebuilding effort and increase their earnings.

The economies of Canada and the United States are in good shape with historically low unemployment and solid GDP growth. Then there is the Electronic Logging (ELD) Device mandate that will restrict the utilization of some trucks and push some drivers out of the industry. This unique confluence of variables is likely to make an already tight capacity situation even tighter.

What can shippers do to secure the capacity they need to keep their supply chains flowing and serve their customers? Here are two suggestions.

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Economic conditions are solid as we approach the fourth quarter of 2017. Unemployment is low and companies are hiring. Demand for freight transportation services should be strong during the fall and holiday seasons. As we enter this typically heavy shipping period, shippers need to contend with a range of variables that are shaping the supply and demand for freight transportation services.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

 Two natural disasters have had a dramatic effect on Texas, Florida, and the surrounding states. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, two of the most powerful hurricanes in years, have created significant destruction to power grids, infrastructure, homes, and their contents. Repairing, replacing, and rebuilding will consume significant transportation resources, lumber, roofing materials, electrical equipment, appliances, paint, and other materials. These activities will continue during and after the heavy fall shipping season.

The ELD mandate

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Driving a transport truck is one of the most prevalent jobs in North America and throughout the world. There are about 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States; the comparable number for Canada would be in the range of 350,000 people. Truck drivers are mostly men who like a life on the open road, crisscrossing the freeways and city streets of America. These are folks who are away from home for long stretches of time, as they go from state to state, province to province, sleeping in cheap motels or in their sleeper cabs, eating unhealthy meals in Truck Stops and spending long, lonely hours driving their rigs.

Young people seeking to enter the profession need to take a set of courses so they learn safe driving techniques and how to manage their rigs. For those individuals who wish to run their own businesses, they can become owner-operators. They can work for themselves or for one of the thousands of trucking companies throughout North America. This can include working for a for-hire fleet or for the private fleet of a manufacturer or retailer.

Despite the relative ease of entry into the profession, there is a shortage of truck drivers in North America. Driving a truck is a tough job. Bad weather, traffic, and road conditions create difficulties on a daily basis. A lack of investment in infrastructure throughout North America creates congestion and impedes productivity. Driving a tractor-trailer unit with a 45,000-pound payload requires full concentration throughout the period they are on the road.

For many people, being away from home for blocks of time is not glamorous or fun. For someone with a young family, missing family occasions and their kids’ baseball or soccer games does not help maintain positive personal relationships.  While much has been done to raise the quality of the profession, truck driving does not command the respect it deserves; it remains a relatively poorly paid job.

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Freight matching services or “freight exchanges” have become one of the hottest topics in Freight Transportation over the past few years. Venture capital funds, private investors and others have poured at least $200 million — and potentially substantially more — into dozens of on-demand freight start-ups, including Flexport, Transfix, Loadsmart, Convoy, Doft, Cargo Chief, TugForce, HaulHound, Parade, Ship Lync, Load Surfer, FreightCenter, Freight Finder, Freightera, Freightcom, Pickmyload and others. There are new companies entering this space on a nearly daily basis.

Uber, the controversial but successful online taxi app, has recently announced that it is entering the freight matching arena. What is the attraction?

A brief history of freight matching services

DAT (which is an abbreviation for Dial-A-Truck) was the original load board in North America that was created in 1978. TruckersEdge was founded after DAT and was acquired by TransCore in 1992, another internet pioneer in load board services. Truckstop.com and Getloaded.com were launched in the early 2000s. In 2001, DAT was purchased by TransCore. In 2004, TransCore was acquired by Roper Technologies. In 2014, TransCore DAT became DAT Solutions. For four decades, this group of companies has been offering, for a fee, a process for shippers and brokers to post loads that need to be moved and for carriers to highlight available capacity.

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The Basics

Freight Transportation is typically the single largest cost component of Supply Chain Management. Data from Logistics Management’s Annual Study of Logistics and Transportation Trends highlights that an average transportation spend is in the range of 10 to 11 percent of revenue for companies with less than $250 million in Sales and it is in the range of 2 to 3 percent for companies with revenues in excess of $9 billion. As a result, my colleagues and I are often amazed that freight expenses are undermanaged in so many companies.

Freight Expenses are Controllable, Manageable and Negotiable Costs

Regardless of mode, freight costs are typically comprised of three elements

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