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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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At the January 21 Driving for Profit Seminar in Mississauga, Ontario, the number 61 was placed on the screen. Glenn Caldwell, Vice President of Sales for NAL Insurance, asked the audience if they knew the significance of this number for the trucking industry. As we learned, the number 61 represents the average lifespan of a professional truck driver in the United States, a number that is significantly below the national average for the rest of population (76 for an American male, 80 for a Canadian male).

One of the handouts at the Seminar was a 144 page report entitled Research on the Health and Wellness of Commercial Truck and Bus Drivers, Summary of an International Conference from the Transportation Research Board of the American Trucking Research Institute of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, published in 2012. The study focused on a range of issues and actions that can have an impact on the health and wellness of truck drivers.

Some Common Driver Health Risk Issues and Potential Actions

 H-and-W-ChartV3

 

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As the year 2013 winds down, it is time to reflect on the major transportation trends of the past year.  While I saw and read about a wide range of developments, these are the ones that resonated most with me.

1.Technology Comes to Freight Transportation

Last year I predicted that we would see a flurry of new technologies come to freight transportation.  They did and I wrote about some of these new companies on several occasions during the year.  Technology was successfully applied to the freight brokerage business, freight portals, LTL density calculations and to other segments of the industry.  Buytruckload.com, PostBidShip, Freightopolis, QuoteMyTruckload,  and Freightsnap were featured in various blogs during the year.  They are changing the way business is done in freight transportation.  Watch for more of these companies to surface in 2014.

2013 has been called the Year of the Network by numerous supply chain and transportation industry thought leaders.  Companies that built a successful supply chain trading partner network focused on three elements:

Connectivity— unite disparate systems and trading partners

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If your trucking company hasn’t been purchased or doesn’t get purchased by TransForce, will it be in business in five years?  That is the question that came up in a recent discussion with a long time industry colleague.  The response I received was that he didn’t think his company would survive.  I was a bit surprised by the response and asked him for an explanation.  This led to an interesting discussion on what it is going to take to make it in the trucking industry in 2014 and beyond.

We both agreed that while the trucking industry has changed in some ways over the past decade (e.g. more use of technology, better cost controls after the Great Recession, LNG vehicles, greater use of 3PLs as customers), the industry is not that much different from ten years ago.  The slow economic turnaround since 2008 has created a challenging environment and there is little reason to expect a major improvement in the short term.  Rate increases are hard to come by, even with a tight driver situation.  Even more of a concern is the lack of innovation in the industry and the threat that such changes could wreak on so many complacent companies.

The warning signs are there.  As a Canadian, you don’t have to look much further than Nortel and Blackberry to see what can happen to industry leaders that were not able to keep up with changing consumer needs and quality competitors.  At the same time, one can observe what companies such as Amazon and Apple have been able to do to change the paradigm of some long established industries. 

Some of the large trucking industry players are making investments in technology and people.  They are integrating back offices and focusing on achieving economies of scale.  They are thoughtfully expanding their service portfolios and geographic footprints. 

Some of the small players are offering solutions that are very tailored to certain industry verticals and geographic areas.  Companies that are focused on same day delivery, refrigerated intermodal service, pooled LTL service, energy distribution and other emerging capabilities are creating a space for themselves in the industry.

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At the end of each year, I like to take stock of the major freight transportation stories of the past twelve months and look ahead to the trends that will drive the industry in the coming year.  The two blogs that I write are prepared from my perspective as a consultant to shippers and carriers.

This year I would like to hear from you.  Those of you who follow this blog observe trends in your segment of the industry.  Please take a minute to share them with me.  Please post them on this blog or send a private e mail to dan@dantranscon.com

Please feel free to select any major trend or trends that are having or will have a major impact on our industry, whether regulatory, economic, technological, demographic, consumer behavior, environmental, modal shifts or business strategy.

To broaden the range of inputs and perspectives, I will also post this request on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  In the coming weeks I will be preparing my two lists.  The lists will include a blend of my observations and yours.  Look for these two blogs in mid-December.  Thank you to those of you who take the time to share your observations with me.

 

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Last week the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals released its 24th annual State of Logistics Report. Last year, business logistics costs were once again 8.5 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the same level they hit in 2011, the new report says. That means freight logistics was growing at about the same rate as the GDP. Inventory carrying costs and transportation costs rose "quite modestly" in 2012, said the report's author Rosalyn Wilson. Year-over-year, inventory carrying costs (interest, taxes/obsolescence/depreciation/insurance, and warehousing) increased 4% y/y as inventory levels climbed to a new peak. Meanwhile, transportation costs were up 3% y/y predominantly from an increase of 2.9% in overall truck transportation costs.

This "new normal" is characterized by slow growth (GDP growth of 2.5% to 4.0%), higher unemployment, slower job creation (which will primarily be filled by part-time workers due to higher healthcare costs), increased productivity of the current workforce from investment in machinery/technology (and not human capital), and a less reliable or predictable freight service (as volumes rise but capacity does not increase fast enough to meet demand). Wilson noted that slow growth and lackluster job creation has caused the global economy to wallow in mixed levels of recovery. "This month will mark the fourth year of recovery after the Great Recession, and you're probably thinking that here has not been much to celebrate," said Wilson. "Is it time to ask, 'Is this the new normal?'"

For logisticians, the "new normal" means less predictable and less reliable freight services as volumes rise but capacity does not. In areas such as ocean transport, Wilson said, this can mean slower transit times. "I do believe the economy and logistics sector will slowly regain sustainable momentum, but that we'll still experience unevenness in growth rates," Wilson predicted.

For cutting-edge logistics managers, however, the current environment also means great opportunities to secure increasingly tight capacity in an era of shrewd rate bargaining. This is partly because the trucking industry, in particular, is facing a lid on capacity because of higher qualifications for drivers while top carriers are becoming increasingly selective in their choice of customers and in the allocation of their assets.

"Truck capacity is still walking a fine line—few shortages, but industry-high utilization rates," Wilson explained. Truckload capacity continues to remain stagnant (with the majority of new equipment orders for replacement or dedicated fleets and the copious amount of truckload capacity sapping regulations coming down the pipeline) and the assumption that freight demand will continue to modestly increase (as the economy continues to muddle along at low single digit GDP growth in combination with population growth), a less predictable and less reliable freight market is developing (as described in the "new normal").

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In last week’s blog, I shared some ideas from the recent SCL – CITA annual conference on how to improve shipper- carrier collaboration.  Various suggestions were proposed by a panel consisting of two leading shippers and two major Canadian carriers.  Some other thoughts were expressed during other tracks that day.

The panelists presented some suggestions that came out of a joint meeting between the Ontario Trucking Association and the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association.  Here is more of what they had to say.

Removing Waste from the Shipper and Carrier’s Operation

During the panel discussion it was suggested that it is through trust, communication and dialogue, rather than through an RFP, that opportunities to remove waste from a shipper’s operation can be identified, discussed and solved.  The RFP process is typically too rigid to allow for a meaningful exchange of ideas and for the development of action plans. 

Since the focus in an RFP is typically on rates and service, it doesn’t create a forum for dedicated problem resolution.  Moreover, by not creating project teams, action plans and time lines to remove waste, the inefficiencies typically doesn’t get extracted.  The shipper continues to perform the same functions, in the same way, with its existing and/or new carriers.  Drivers continue to be pick up half full loads since opportunities to consolidate freight or change pick-up dates are missed. As one trucking executive mentioned, the savings generated from these types of initiatives can be much larger than the two percent saved as a result of the freight bid.

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Transportation Trends in 2013

Posted by on in 2013 Economic Forecast

The New Year will be an exciting one that will likely be shaped by the financial talks currently taking place in Washington.  Here are some of the key trends to watch for in the coming year.

1. The “Fiscal Cliff” Crisis may determine the level of the Economic Recovery in 2013

As the year comes to a close, America is facing a number of economic headwinds (e.g. high unemployment and underemployment, mismatch between job skills required/positions available) and tailwinds (e.g. possible rebound in the housing sector, potential revival of domestic manufacturing, boom in energy production, improving household balance sheets). Senior government leaders in Washington are trying to solve America’s so-called “fiscal cliff” that is casting a dark shadow over the economy. The resolution of this crisis may go down to the wire and will likely set the tone for the economic recovery, or lack thereof, in 2013.  Should America’s leadership come to a good understanding on tax increases and spending cuts, this will place the United States and probably Canada on a more solid path to an economic recovery, even if 2013 is not expected to be a year of robust growth. This will help shippers and carriers in all sectors of the economy.  A failure to reach an agreement, a weak agreement or an agreement to push the problem down the road, will put a damper on discretionary spending, consumer confidence and possibly shove North America and much of the world into recession.

2. America’s Energy Renaissance/ Fracking comes to the USA

America is going through an energy renaissance.  Induced hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking, commonly known as fracking, is a technique used to release petroleum, natural gas (including shale gas, tight gas, and coal seam gas), or other substances for extraction.  Fracking is allowing America to produce increasing supplies of energy just as the Middle East, the world’s leading source for petroleum, has become increasingly volatile. 

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