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Intense peak season on tap, three top transportation executives say

Peak to be `bigger, faster, come quicker and stay longer,’ XPO’s Ritter says at CSCMP EDGE 2020

Drivers and their trucks. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Three top transportation executives said Monday that they expect a high-intensity peak shipping season marked by the ongoing shortage of qualified commercial truck drivers and a pandemic that won’t disappear any time soon.

The peak will be “bigger, faster, will come quicker and stay longer,” said Greg Ritter, chief customer officer of transport and logistics giant XPO Logistics Inc. (NYSE:XPO). Appearing on a panel at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ EDGE 2020 virtual conference, Ritter said that while Greenwich, Connecticut-based XPO is close to peak readiness, many of its customers are already there. 

Derek Leathers, vice chairman, president and CEO of Omaha, Nebraska-based truckload and logistics company Werner Enterprises Inc., (NASDAQ:WERN) said that peak capacity will be tight this year. Another issue, Leathers said, is that some of Werner’s customers are having a tougher time than usual securing products because the pandemic has disrupted many of their traditional channels of supply.

The pandemic has accelerated the long-running problem of driver availability, said Eric Fuller, president and CEO of truckload carrier U.S. Xpress Enterprises Inc. (NYSE:USX). Fuller warned that supply tightness will extend well beyond peak season. “The driver situation is getting worse,” he said. “It will be a lot more difficult and it won’t get much better” for the foreseeable future.

Two driver-related regulations confronting truckers are the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s revised hours-of-service (HOS) rules that, barring a successful legal challenge, will go into effect September 29, and the agency’s proposal mandating the testing of hair follicle samples to determine possible substance abuse by drivers. 

Leathers said he supports the revised HOS rules because they will give drivers more flexibility in their workday without unfairly penalizing them or compromising highway safety. The panelists endorsed the hair follicle testing proposal as a strong safety measure because hair testing detects marijuana use further back in time than a urine sample. However, one of the proposal’s unintended consequences is that it might disqualify driver applicants who otherwise may have passed a urinalysis because of the relatively short amount of time that illegal substances remain in a human’s system before it gets passed as urine.

The three executives spoke highly of leading-edge technologies such as autonomous vehicles but emphasized that automation will never be a substitute for the skills of a qualified commercial driver.

None of the executives expect a return to normalcy until a COVID vaccine is developed, approved and widely distributed. Fuller said that certain parts of the trucker’s business will never return to the pre-COVID-19 days. For example, U.S. Xpress is exploring how many employees currently working from home have jobs that will allow them to stay at home permanently. Before the pandemic, no one at the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based carrier regularly worked from home, he said.

Ritter of XPO said the company’s customer relationships have been strengthened because the pandemic has fostered more collaboration and understanding of the shared sacrifices that everyone has made. XPO’s customer alliances are “deeper” than they were six months ago, he said.

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One Comment

  1. Stephen Webster

    The current number of people who could drive truck or bus in Ontario Canada are doing other things because of poor treatment in the past year. Too many owner ops could not get protection against huge medical bills from coronavirus. Insurance companies delay claims after truck drivers getting hurt and the inability for small trucking companies to be able to afford insurance to cover new truck drivers. When freight rates drop below 2 dollars per mile and decent pay for loading and unloading times. The Federal government in Canada needs to bring in more protection for both current truck drivers and those who do not get proper housing and medical treatment after getting hurt or sick. No one should be able to bring in more than one foreign truck driver in a year until the C T A and the O T A set up a group to look after truck drivers wage claims for the past 7 years. They also need to work with their own members to build More truck parking across Canada. The A T A needs to do the same thing in the U some of homeless disabled are often former truck drivers.

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Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.