Concerns that a shortage of qualified truck drivers would lead to a significant increase in driver wages and, by extension, a substantial rise in freight rates might be overblown.
A second-quarter survey of carrier executives by Chattanooga, Tenn.-based consultancy Transport Capital Partners LLC found that while 93 percent of respondents expect driver wages to rise over the next 12 months, 71 percent expect the increases to be 5 percent or less. About 20 percent expect driver wages to climb between 6 and 10 percent. About 7 percent expect wages to remain unchanged, while the remaining 2 percent see compensation climbing above 10 percent by this time next year.
In the second quarter of 2011, about 65 percent expected a 1- to 5-percent rise in driver wages by the same period in 2012. About 22 percent expected a 6- to 10-percent hike by this time, according to the survey.
The numbers indicate that modest freight demand in a sluggish economy is giving shippers the leverage to hold the line on carrier rate increases, according to Lana R. Batts, a long-time trucking executive and a partner in TCP. As a result, carriers struggling to maintain profitable growth can't increase driver wages as much as they might like, even though they continue to confront a driver shortage that is growing more acute, she said.
Batts said relatively small increases in driver compensation is likely to accelerate driver turnover rates and deter new entrants from obtaining a commercial driver's license and getting behind the wheel. Another issue, she said, is that the recent uptick in U.S. residential construction activity is luring back labor that had left construction for trucking in the wake of the real-estate bust that began in 2007.
About 40 percent of the survey's respondents had annual revenue of more than $51 million.