Truck driver wages for large truckload carriers will rise by 1 to 5 percent over the next 12 months, according to a survey released on June 7 by Transport Capital Partners LLC (TCP), a transport mergers and acquisitions advisory firm. TCP says that a growing number of carriers expect to see wage increases of more than 5 percent during the next year.
About 28 percent of the 150 carriers surveyed during the second quarter expect driver wages to rise more than 5 percent, up from 12 percent of respondents in the first quarter. About 65 percent of respondents predicted a 1 to 5 percent increase, about the same as in the first quarter, the survey said.
About 30 percent of larger carriers surveyed—defined as companies with more than $25 million in annual revenue—expect increases of more than 5 percent. By contrast, 22 percent of smaller carriers expect driver wage increases of that magnitude, according to the survey.
"The larger carriers apparently are feeling the pressure first as the driver pendulum is swinging to the more typical levels of this phase of the supply-demand cycle and truck capacity is tightening both because of lack of equipment as well as now drivers," said Richard Mikes, a partner at the firm and the survey's founder.
About 73 percent of the respondents said driver wages would need to range between $50,000 and $70,000 a year to attract and retain drivers in the current environment, the survey said. The high end of the range is significantly more than the median wages paid to drivers.
The survey results come amid growing concern that there will not be enough qualified drivers to haul the nation's freight as demand picks up, government safety programs such as CSA 2010 winnow out between 5 to 10 percent of the driver pool, and older drivers retire. It is estimated that one of every six drivers in the U.S. is 55 or older.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) reported late last month that the turnover rate for drivers at large truckload fleets rose at a 75 percent annualized rate in the first quarter. The current turnover rate is up from 39 percent in the same quarter in 2010 and is at the highest level since the second quarter of 2008. Turnover at small truckload fleets rose slightly to 50 percent, which is still the highest level since the third quarter of 2008.
The fleets of less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers reported a turnover rate of just 8 percent in the first quarter of 2011, the ATA reported. LTL carriers have an easier time keeping drivers because they operate over relatively shorter hauls and have regular, predictable schedules that allow drivers to better balance work and home life.
Most of the turnover is attributed to drivers jumping from carrier to carrier in search of a better working arrangement, though retirements, deaths, and attrition due to sub-standard performance also enter into the mix, according to Bob Costello, the association's chief economist.
"With the economy recovering from the Great Recession, the implementation of new regulations, and the number of retirees outpacing the number of drivers entering the industry, I expect to see the turnover rate continue to rise," said Costello.
The driver shortage, combined with reductions in rig and trailer capacity over the past four years, has raised fears of a capacity crunch that will invariably lead to higher rates for shippers. The TCP analysts said that the lack of qualified drivers "can no longer be left out of the industry capacity and underlying cost structure discussions on potential rates in the months and years ahead."