Although the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a vaccine mandate for large employers, truckers driving between the U.S. and Canada will still need to be fully vaccinated by the end of the month.
Canada began requiring all foreign truckers entering the country to be fully vaccinated as of Jan. 15, with the U.S. set to enact similar rules starting Jan. 22, reported The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 13). Although tourist travel has been limited, cross-border trade between the U.S. and Canada has been unimpeded since the onset of the pandemic.
It remains to be seen how the new mandate will affect commerce, but trucking and manufacturing trade groups are already warning of further supply chain upheaval.
“We believe these mandates will only serve to push drivers out of the industry or away from these routes, further straining the supply chain between the U.S. and our biggest trading partner,” Bob Costello, chief economist of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), told The Wall Street Journal.
Stressing An Already-Stressed Workforce
Overcoming limited trucking capacity will be a major hurdle as the U.S. looks for ways out of the current supply chain crisis, with ATA estimating the nation was running short nearly 80,000 truckers in late October 2021. The group attributed the record-high shortage to historic demand to move freight.
Costello noted the shortage could surpass 160,000 by 2030 when considering current driver demographic trends and projected freight growth over the next decade.
“A thing to note about the shortage is that before the pandemic, we were adding drivers to the industry – even though we had a shortage, more people were entering the industry,” Costello said in a press release. “The issue is that new entrants into the industry didn’t keep up with demand for goods.”
RBC Capital Markets indicated the current shortage could stretch as high as 85,000 truckers, according to an e-mail viewed by The Food Institute.
RBC noted demand for conventional van trailers were 5.8 times oversubscribed in 2021, compared to 2 times oversubscribed in 2019. Refrigerated truckloads were three times as in demand when compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Attracting Younger Drivers
One of the major challenges affecting the trucking industry is a federal requirement that drivers be at least 21 years of age, but that could soon be changing. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a Federal Register notice Jan. 13 about a pilot a program allowing drivers as young as 18 to drive for interstate commerce.
The pilot program, authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, will allow the younger drivers to gain experience via 120-hour and 280-hour probationary periods.
An experienced driver will need to remain in the passenger seat for these periods, and trucks for use in the program will be equipped with electronic braking crash mitigation systems and forward-facing video systems.