"A lot of truckload carriers looked at 2009 as a downsizing time and were shrinking their operations," he says. "The third quarter of 2009 seems to have seen a bottoming out and demand in 2010 is starting to pick up."
The truckload sector is watching a number of issues that could worsen as volumes increase, however. "When the economy turns around we may again face a major driver shortage," Burch says. He notes that a large percentage of existing drivers are getting older and retiring "and we don't have a good plan for bringing in entry-level drivers. Those two things together will create a perfect storm when business turns and we will not have enough drivers to haul the freight," he says.
Another area of concern is new safety inspection ratings being implemented this year by the federal government. The Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) program will bring together data from a variety of sources to create "what will basically be a report card" of what a driver has done over the last 36 months and a carrier's performance for 24 months, Burch says. TCA is working with federal safety agencies to review and improve the details of CSA 2010, Burch says, "but it certainly will mark a big change from the way safety reviews have been done in the past."
Another issue is truck size and weight standards. This is a controversial topic, "but we can't keep our head in the sand," he says. "Otherwise we would still be running with a fleet of 40- or 45-foot trailers." The answer may be to "figure a way to put more weight on trailers without adding axles," he says.
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