Posted: 2/23/2023 1:33:34 PM
Fuel prices and shortages of drivers and parking are among the trucking industry’s biggest challenges as it returns to some semblance of normalcy after three years of pandemic-related upheaval. That was the assessment of two trucking industry experts at the NJTPA’s Freight Initiatives Committee meeting on February 21 which featured the committee’s annual Trucking Industry Update.
Darrin Roth, vice president, highway policy, for the American Trucking Associations (ATA) said “The freight market is a little worse than the macro economy, for a number of reasons,” but overall it’s moving back to historical norms after a spike in demand during the pandemic.
Consumers have moved back to the service economy after high demand of consumer goods over the past almost three years of the pandemic, he said. A significant drop in housing starts is expected this year due to rising mortgage rates with somewhat of a recovery in 2024. Spending on construction via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act , Roth said, “will mitigate some of this, which is not all bad news for this sector.”
He said there was a fairly significant drop-off in contract loads in 2021 not due to demand but supply. Trucking companies were unable to find enough equipment and drivers to meet demand so they went to the spot market, which saw a huge increase, according to Roth.
But as shippers went back to contract carriers, the spot market “fell off a cliff” in 2022, Roth said. “If you’re a contract carrier, you’re doing OK, you’re seeing a bit of downturn. If you’re in the spot market, you’re just being killed,” he said.
While the driver shortage peaked in 2021 at about 80,000 drivers and now is easing, all is not well for the long term. By 2031,Roth estimates a doubling of the shortage to about 160,000 drivers. “If this happens, supply chain disruptions are going to be significant,” he said. The U.S. is not unique as the driver shortage is a worldwide problem. “It’s not just a case of just ‘Pay them more and you’ll find more drivers.’ We have a worldwide demographic problem.”
While there is a very high driver turnover rate, the vast majority is not drivers leaving the industry but rather churn within the industry as drivers leave for more money or recruiting bonuses, according to Roth. At the same time, the industry is facing other rising costs including fuel, insurance premiums, equipment and maintenance.
“What does that mean? Potentially a lot of bankruptcies, particularly for small carriers,” said Roth.
Roth described the New Jersey and the larger northeast region as “the epicenter” for truck driver and parking shortages. A recent Department of Transportation survey indicated that 98 percent of drivers said they experienced difficulty finding a safe place to park in 2019, compared with 75 percent in 2015. That’s a safety problem that also becomes a productivity problem, Roth said.
The critical nature of truck parking was echoed in a presentation by Jeff Short from the American Transportation Research Institute. He reported on his organization’s survey of thousands of industry executives, commercial drivers, stakeholders and others. While fuel prices and the driver shortages topped the list of concerns, truck parking was third overall. For commercial drivers, it was first.
He said whether at private facilities in rural areas or public rest areas in the Northeast, truckers often are parking along on- and off-ramps of these areas because there simply is not enough spaces. The challenges to addressing the shortage include cost of land, zoning laws and community concerns, with “folks not necessarily wanting a truck parking location near them.“
His organization also looked at the age of drivers which continues to rise. Going back 25 to 30 years, Short said the largest category of drivers used to be 25- to 34-year-olds, which today make up less than 20 percent of drivers. The two largest demographics are 45- to 64-year-olds, which is not sustainable, he said, and the industry must shift that curve to attract younger adults.
A recording of the Freight Initiatives Committee meeting is available here. Slide presentations are here.
Posted: 2/17/2023 10:10:00 AM
While New Jersey is benefiting greatly from the increased funding under federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), more must be done to help counties and municipalities compete for available grant funding. That was the message of testimony submitted by NJTPA Chair John W. Bartlett, Passaic County Commissioner, to a hearing of the New Jersey Assembly Special Committee on Infrastructure and Natural Resources on February 16, 2023. The written testimony is here.
Bartlett said that the NJTPA is working closely with its partners, N.J. Department of Transportation (NJDOT) and NJ TRANSIT, to identify and fund the highest priority transportation projects with available IIJA formula funding. Ongoing management of this funding through the NJTPA Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), allows NJTPA and its partners to be “nimble and to quickly seek out and program new federal funds when they become available.”
He noted that the NJTPA is also making increased federal funding available to member counties and cities for the initial concept development and environmental work to prepare local bridge and other projects for eventual federal funding for construction through the TIP. NJTPA also provides federal funds for local safety improvement projects, 19 of which are slated for approval in March. But Bartlett indicated that much IIJA funding is distributed through competitive grants, requiring the investment of considerable staff time, expertise, and resources in developing grant applications, “which present challenges for many county and local governments.”
The NJTPA, he said, has sought to assist its member agencies in grant activities, including by providing information about funding opportunities, consulting on local applications, and providing data and letters of support. In the next fiscal year, it will assist interested member agencies in the development of local safety action plans, a requirement for applying for IIJA safety implementation grants. In addition, NJTPA support for planning efforts by counties and municipalities, in many cases, he said results in recommendations “ideally suited to compete for IIJA-funded grants.”
The need for such support for local grant activities under IIJA will grow over the next four years, according to Bartlett. While state level investments are “helping immensely, he said, many needs can be addressed most effectively and promptly by county and local governments.” This includes helping address aging infrastructure; reducing crashes and improving safety, particularly for pedestrians; expanding and improving the bus and transit network; and, support for disadvantaged communities, many of which have been traditionally underserved by transportation programs.
The needs, he said, also extend to water infrastructure such as stormwater management and flood prevention, which is a particular concern in his home county of Passaic along the Passaic River basin.
The State Legislature and State agencies should do more to “bolster the capabilities and resources available to counties and municipalities, both in the application process and in successfully implementing their grants.” The result he said “will not just be improved competitiveness for IIJA funding but also capacity building that will benefit our municipalities and counties in other ways.”
Posted: 2/16/2023 9:13:51 AM
Middlesex County in July became the first county in New Jersey to formally adopt a Vision Zero goal, seeking to completely eliminate fatalities and serious injuries on its roads. The county Board of Commissioners adopted the goal and established the Vision Zero Partnership which will implement the county’s Vision Zero action plan.
Vision Zero goals have also been adopted by the cities of Jersey City and Hoboken. The NJTPA recently adopted regional safety performance targets that seeks to meet Vision Zero goals regionwide by 2050.
Middlesex County Planning Director Doug Greenfeld shared the county’s approach to its Vision Zero action plan during the NJTPA’s Regional Transportation Advisory Committee (RTAC) meeting on Tuesday.
The Middlesex County Vision Zero Action Plan, an initiative of the Transportation and Mobility Chapter of the county’s strategic plan, Destination 2040, is organized around the five elements of the Safe System Approach recommended by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA):
- Safe roads
- Safe speeds
- Safe road users
- Safe vehicles
- Safe post-crash response and care
“With Vision Zero, our approach is that traffic deaths are preventable, humans make mistakes and human bodies have limited ability to tolerate crash impacts,” Greenfeld said. As such, streets should be designed to minimize the impacts of mistakes, with a focus on systems rather than relying on the individual. “Saving lives does not have to be expensive, there are many low-cost solutions,” he said.
“Our objective is to change culture and we’re partnering with our municipalities to be successful,” Greenfeld said. The partnership comprises a Leadership Committee, composed of county and municipal elected leaders, with two working groups reporting to it. The Complete Streets Working Group focuses on safer roads and safer road users while the Culture of Safety Working Group focuses on safer vehicles, safer speeds, and post-crash care.
Traffic deaths are on the rise across the United States and in the county. Between 2010 and 2019, there were almost 300,000 recorded crashes in Middlesex County, with 466 resulting in fatalities and 964 in suspected serious injuries. On average, the county saw two crashes per hour, four fatalities and 23 injuries per month.
Bicyclists and pedestrians comprised less than 2 percent of collisions but accounted for 24 percent of high-severity crashes which reinforces that the “most vulnerable roadway users are people who walk or bike,” Greenfeld said. These crashes were particularly concentrated within urbanized New Brunswick and Perth Amboy.
More than half of fatal or serious injuries (52 percent) occurred on county and municipal roads, with almost a third (32 percent) on state roads and one in eight (12.5 percent) on interstates or the New Jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway.
Fatal and serious injury crash hot spots were clustered around New Brunswick, Perth Amboy, Edison and Woodbridge, and along major roadways. Most of these crashes are in the northern half of the county especially around major intersections such as GSP and Route 9 junction. Based on more recent 10-year crash data ending in 2022, the deadliest roads in the county are Route 1 and the New Jersey Turnpike.
The presentation can be found here. A recording of the RTAC meeting can be accessed here.