The president of the brokerage division of transport logistics giant Con-way Inc. said it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain two-person team drivers, an important factor in carriers' ability to execute long-haul deliveries of high-value, time-sensitive shipments such as perishables.
C. Thomas Barnes, president of Aurora, Ill.-based Con-way Multimodal, said that while the brokerage is not having much trouble locating solo drivers to move his customers' loads, procuring team drivers is another story. Finding teams is a "much bigger issue" than obtaining the services of solo drivers, Barnes said, adding that "teams are like gold."
In an interview with DC Velocity on Monday at the National Industrial Transportation League's annual meeting in Atlanta, Barnes said team drivers are in short supply for the same reasons that plague companies seeking qualified long-haul truckload drivers, namely a difficult work-life balance and relatively low pay for long hours on the road. In addition, team drivers are often asked to handle specialized freight such as perishables and hazardous materials because those commodities often require fast deliveries—usually in less than three days—over long distances.
Finding team drivers certified to transport hazardous materials is probably the most formidable of the recruitment challenges, said Barnes, who estimated that "specialized" commodities account for about 35 percent of Con-way Multimodal's traffic mix.
Con-way Multimodal is carrier neutral, meaning it can use whatever carrier it believes best suits its customers' needs. It focuses virtually all of its business on less-than-truckload (LTL), truckload, and intermodal. Owner-operator drivers—fleets of between one and seven trucks—make up about 30 percent of the fleet that hauls its freight, Barnes said.
Barnes said he expects truckload rates to rise 3 to 5 percent a year for the next two years, with LTL rates headed up between 4 and 6 percent. The LTL rate outlook will be shaped by the fate of troubled carrier YRC Worldwide Inc., which controls anywhere from 12 to 15 percent of LTL capacity. Should YRC exit the business, rates will go up, Barnes said, adding that such a scenario is unlikely, at least in the short run.
Rail intermodal rate increases will lag at only about 2 to 4 percent a year, Barnes said, a function of more intermodal capacity flooding the market as more businesses—Con-way Multimodal included—migrate to the service.