ContainerDriver issuesEquipmentNewsTruckingTruckload

Today’s Pickup: Driver wages still rising; autonomous cargo ships; and hyperloop tunnels

Rising driver wages can’t slow driver shortage plus a Boston-based company receives funding for autonomous technology development for cargo vessels and more empty containers are leaving U.S. ports

Good day,

Driver wages are going higher as we enter 2019, that’s the good news for drivers. The bad news is that wages seem tied to rates, and as rates moderate, wages may as well.

Stifel hosted a conference call last with executives from the National Transportation Institute (NTI) and found that wages have increased about 10.2% this year, but that the wage gap between private fleets and for-hire fleets remains significant. Private fleets are paying an average of just under $20,000 more per year. Even with that higher pay, though, private fleets are facing issues attracting drivers.

The NTI execs noted that the media per-mile pay is 43 cents per mile, but 11% of fleets are still paying about 38 cents per mile. “Those are the fleets with low-quality drivers, in our view, or drivers that are likely to leave when they find out about the opportunities elsewhere,” a Stifel research note on the call concluded.

“With continued upward pressure expected on wages, we believe carriers should be able to pass along higher rates to shippers in 2019,” Stifel said. “Our current expectation of 5%-7% price inflation in 2019 is in line with the lower-end of NTI’s view on driver wage inflation, and we believe the better operators should be able to pass along the necessary increases and at least maintain (but more likely further expand) margins. The biggest risk we see to both driver wages and pricing is a significant drop in demand.”

Did you know?

As imports have grown, so too have empty export containers. In October, the number of empty containers leaving the Port of Los Angeles grew 33% year-over-year, and the Port of Oakland reported twice as many empties in November as in 2017.


“We are creating the technology that propels the future of the marine industries and this investment enables us to double down on our commitment to building advanced command and control products that make the industry more capable, productive and profitable.”

– Michael Gordon Johnson, founder & CEO of Boston-based Sea Machines, which is developing autonomous capabilities for cargo vessels.

In other news:

Backing announced for autonomous cargo ships

Sea Machines Robotics has secured backing to help it build autonomous cargo vessels. (The Loadstar)

Imports grow, but so do empty containers

Even as West Coast ports reached record import volumes in November, the number of empty containers and empty export containers is growing. (Supply Chain Dive)

Boring Company to finally show hyperloop tunnels

After months of speculation, Elon Musk’s Boring Company is set to show off tunnels that are part of its hyperloop project. (USA Today)

State DOTs turn to humor to improve driving behaviors

State DOTs are becoming more creating in their efforts to combat dangerous driving behaviors, with many turning to humor to gain drivers’ attention. (WTOL)

“Living fences” the new safety barriers in Minnesota

The Minnesota DOT has begun implementing “living fences” as safety barriers for vehicles and blowing snow. (Star Tribune)

Final Thoughts

Executives from the National Transportation Institute expect driver wages to rise between 6% and 10% next year, but that one dynamic that clouds the driver wage picture remains the lack of transparency. Most carriers still pay by the mile, but the number of miles driven and/or bonuses change the final pay number, so it becomes difficult for drivers to truly discern which carrier pays best. Ten cents more per mile at Carrier B may seem like a great deal to a driver, until they find out they lose out on safe driving bonuses. Transparency can solve a lot of ills in industry, and when you add in large sign-on bonuses to attract drivers from another fleet, it’s little wonder why the industry struggles to find new drivers, let along keep those they already have in their employ.

Hammer down everyone!

Show More

Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.