When you think of the trucking industry, Westchester doesn’t leap to mind. Tractor-trailers and flannel-clad truck drivers seem more at home traversing America’s flat, wide superhighways than the hilly, twisty roads of the Lower Hudson Valley.
But Westchester plays an important role in the sector: It’s a gateway to New York City. And since tractor-trailers primarily haul goods between the country’s two coasts, Westchester sees a great deal of trucker traffic. Semis relentlessly traverse I-87 and the Gov. Cuomo Bridge. They fuel up at truck stops in Yonkers and New Rochelle. And they navigate the narrow streets of Chappaqua and Dobbs Ferry to make local deliveries.
Another way Westchester and the trucking industry are connected is via Carrier Logistics, a leading trucking-technology company headquartered in Tarrytown. Carrier Logistics provides logistics tech to trucking companies that optimizes routes, schedules stops, calculates costs, and tracks shipments. They’ve been in the industry for more than 40 years and have clients spanning the continental US, including ones here in Westchester and the Lower Hudson Valley. But even a slightly deeper dive reveals that all is not rosy in the industry these days.
“The industry has a number of significant challenges facing it,” shares Ben Wiesen, president of Carrier Logistics. Wiesen highlights three major issues — new regulations, an aging workforce, and the advent of self-driving trucks (which Wiesen sees as both a challenge and an opportunity) — that are affecting residents and businesses in Westchester.
Ben Wiesen (left), president, and Kevin Linardic, CTO, of Carrier Logistics in Tarrytown
Photo by Jesse Rinka Photography
Regulations in the trucking industry are essential: They ensure that the semi one lane over is properly maintained and driven by someone who’s sufficiently rested. For the most part, truckers can’t drive more than 11 consecutive hours, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. And, drivers must get 10 hours off-duty before starting a fresh shift.
Still, even the best-intentioned regulations can “cripple drivers’ ability to operate effectively, efficiently, and freely within the existing route structures that have been designed,” Wiesen explains. Just one example: Trucking companies carefully build their routes and schedules according to “hours of service” regulations. So even a small adjustment to these laws can have a significant impact on the route.
“All of a sudden, the truck companies are not able to operate effectively,” Wiesen explains. “And it’s not just trucking [that’s affected]. It’s the whole supply chain: Distribution centers, warehouses, and stores all come into play.” That means a Whole Foods in Yonkers or DeCicco & Sons in Millwood won’t receive its latest shipment as planned.
Another regulatory peccadillo may be the 2017 mandate to equip trucks with electronic logging devices, or ELDs, which record driving data. “Most of the fleets were moving toward this anyway,” Wiesen explains, “but when it becomes a regulation, you’re forced to upgrade your fleet, whether the truck needs to be upgraded or not. That puts economic pressure on a business.
“It has a trickle-down effect,” he continues. “Ultimately, it means the price of what you and I are buying goes up.”
Perhaps the best-known challenge facing the industry right now is driver scarcity. Wiesen notes a number of factors are behind this shrinking labor pool. “First, there’s the aging workforce,” he says. Baby-boomer drivers are retiring. And, according to a recent Marketplace story, younger generations are hesitant to enter an industry with such grueling hours. “It takes a special kind of person, because you basically give up your life for the job,” one driver told the Washington Post in a recent article.
Also, federal regulations prevent anyone under 21 from driving trucks across state lines. So, men and women who might have entered the trucking industry pursue different trades, instead. “[Young people] don’t want to have to wait until they’re 21 or older to begin,” Wiesen says.
All this means it’s hard for trucking companies to be fully staffed (“That’s a bottleneck,” says Wiesen). Even higher salaries and enticing signing bonuses aren’t fixing the problem: “Trucker wages start higher and are rising faster than many other blue-collar occupations,” Marketplace recently reported, noting that drivers can earn upward of six figures in a year. Meanwhile, Business Insider reports that signing bonuses of more than $20,000, “haven’t done much to lure in new hires.”
The latest innovations can help some: “Technology is doing its best to reduce the pain of the driver shortage,” Wiesen says. For example, Carrier’s technology uses a region’s geographic data and past traffic data to chart optimal routes. “You can reduce the number of miles and hours trucks have to drive,” Wiesen elaborates.
Carrier also uses software to track the minutiae of loading and unloading at delivery points — and, ultimately, makes the process more efficient.
“It takes a little bit of the edge off the driver shortage,” Wiesen explains.
All this is good news for Wiesen and the rest of the Carrier team, as their products become more critical as drivers become more scarce.
“Technology is doing its best to reduce the pain of the driver shortage…. You can reduce the number of miles and hours trucks have to drive.”
—Ben Wiesen, president, Carrier Logistics
But technology is growing more powerful: One day soon, as vehicles become autonomous, the profession of truck driver might go the way of phone operator or travel agent. That automation is the third challenge currently facing the industry.
“There are people who say, ‘In a few years, we’re going to have self-driving vehicles, and you won’t need a driver anymore,’” Wiesen says. So, how long until an 18-wheeler on autopilot is trundling down I-87 or I-684? Wiesen explains the technology won’t appear on roads overnight. It’ll be gradual, like the telephone’s evolution from a crank-powered device into a wireless computer.
“[First], you could have a lead vehicle driven by a driver,” Wiesen says, “and trailing vehicles that are autonomous vehicles,” wirelessly connected to that lead vehicle. Fully autonomous trucks would come later.
For those concerned about safety, Wiesen has comforting statistics: The self-driving cars already out there — developed by Google and other technology companies — boast better driving records than
Still, it will be some time before the trucks that traverse a Tarrytown cul-de-sac or busy Yonkers street don’t have humans inside. Self-driving trucks are “very viable on the long, straight roads, which tend to be nowhere near the Hudson Valley,” Wiesen says.
Freelance writer Kevin Zawacki is a frequent contributor to 914INC.