- Driver compensation has been the largest source of cost increases for trucking companies since 2012, as wages and benefits increase to boost retention, per an American Transportation Research Institute report.
- The report found increased economic activity led to a 6% increase in the average marginal cost for carriers, to $1.69. The rise was "broad-based," according to a press release, with "nearly every major line item" rising in 2017.
- The line items that rose the most between 2016 and 2017 were fuel costs (+9.5%), tolls (+12.5%) and driver benefits (+10.9%). In absolute terms, fuel costs and driver wages contributed most to an overall cost increase, with each rising an average three cents per mile.
Overall, trucking costs in 2017 were not far from the norm over the past eight years.
Average costs reached $1.69 per mile in 2017, a figure higher than the $1.57 per-mile costs of 2015 but still lower than the $1.70 per-mile costs of both 2011 and 2014.
Yet higher costs in 2017 are notable not because of the absolute shift in value, but because the largest rises come from fixed costs, not variable factors. ATRI data shows driver-based costs have been rising as a share of total operating expenses since at least 2009.
Forty-three cents of every dollar paid by a trucking company went to either driver benefits or compensation, in both 2016 and 2017. This figure was 37 cents per dollar in 2009, when ATRI began collecting data.
The rising driver-based costs have many causes, most notably a shortage of qualified drivers. To retain them, trucking companies are having to raise driver compensation — in both wages and benefits. As of 2017, benefits represented 10% of all operational costs. The last time this was the case was in 2010.
"For reference, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimated that the driver shortage would reach 50,000 drivers by the end of 2017, and if current trends were to continue, the shortage could grow to 174,000 drivers by 2026," ATRI wrote in its report.
The report is based on data from before the start of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate and the surge of freight demand that has continued throughout 2018. Reports indicate wages have continued to rise this year, and companies are purchasing more equipment, as businesses struggle to meet capacity.