As Online Orders Soar, Driver Shortage Stalls Supply Chain

As the coronavirus outbreak drives online sales for many essential products, the demand for truck drivers continues to swell. But, as previously reported, the U.S. faces a shortage of truck drivers, which is impacting product shipments to fulfillment centers as well as for last-mile deliveries. And one industry trade association said today that the government is not helping the situation by closing CDL and state DMV training facilities.

Looking at online orders, shoppers remain in a “necessity mind-set” with food, beverage and tobacco products showing an 85 percent year-over-year increase, according to the most recent data from Bazaarvoice. Total online order counts is up 21 percent. Other categories showing robust online order count gains include sporting goods, up 86 percent, and toys and games, up 60 percent. “Apparel and accessories had a 4 percent increase in page views, and a 4 percent decrease in order count,” the firm said in their report.

In regard to the trucker shortage, industry sources have said last-mile delivery continues to be plagued by several factors, including younger-aged workers who are not licensed and don’t want to drive and an aging fleet of drivers who fear contracting COVID-19. With the drivers of larger rigs, which require a CDL, an aging driver fleet and a vacuum of trained drivers is hampering getting goods to fulfillment centers.

Earlier today, the Commercial Vehicle Training Association released a statement saying the “closure of various state DMVs and CDL training facilities risks cutting off the supply chain on a national level, potentially undermining the country’s ability to respond and recover from COVID-19.” The CVTA said it is “urging both states and the federal government to take action before it’s too late.”

To date, 27 states have closed its State Driver Licensing Agencies, “while the remaining 23 states operate on a limited basis,” the CVTA said, adding that with the trucking industry “accountable for moving 71 percent of all freight across the country, the supply chain relies upon new commercial drivers.” Don Lefeve, president of the CVTA, said the closure of these agencies “leaves many future drivers unable to obtain commercial learner’s permits and commercial driver’s licenses. Abruptly halting the process of getting 25,000 to 40,000 new truck drivers trained, licensed and on the road impacts a number of significant industries and the nation’s supply chain.”

The CVTA said federal guidelines from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security show that drivers are a “critical workforce.” But it is unclear if training schools can be defined as an “essential service,” which would allow them to remain open. [For an interactive, state-by-state guide of essential businesses, click here for a map by Red Stag Fulfillment.] Lefeve said commercial driver training schools “are working together with participants across the supply chain to facilitate Americans’ access to needed goods and services, including food and critical supplies (like prescription medications) during this pandemic.”

Last week, volunteers from the Arizona Trucking Association handed out 500 free lunches to truck drivers at a rest stop on I-10 in Sacaton, Ariz., as a way to show their appreciation for the drivers who were delivering food and medical supplies to areas impacted by COVID-19. Lefeve said in order to avoid truck driver shortages, “which are critical to our nation’s response and recovery, it is imperative that state and federal governments work together so CDL schools and SDLAs can remain open to train, test and license new commercial drivers.” The CVTA formed a coalition with businesses, and is urging governors “to enact executive orders to recognize CDL training schools and SDLAs as ‘essential services’ while also granting the Secretary of Transportation temporary authority to also administer CLP or CDL testing due to SDLA closure.

Timely action on these two requests will help avoid an even larger shortage of critically needed commercial truck drivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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