Recession turns U.S. trucker shortage to surplus

Tue Mar 31, 2009 2:34pm EDT
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By Nick Carey

DETROIT (Reuters) - If you think now is a good time to try your hand as a U.S. truck driver with steady pay and a life on the open road, think again.

The U.S. recession has turned a serious shortage of drivers into a surplus virtually overnight. Disappearing credit has hurt production and shipments of goods of all kinds all at once, idling thousands of trucks.

"When I began trucking two years ago you couldn't throw a dime up in the air without hitting a trucking job," said Brian Short, 26. "Those days are gone."

To an extent, Short is lucky to have a job. But only up to a point, as this is a business where you make your own luck.

Short has no criminal record and a good driving record. That enabled him to switch a few months ago from a large trucker where he was unhappy to Con-way Truckload -- a long-haul unit of truck and logistics outfit Con-way Inc.

"I've talked to drivers recently who have only driven 1,000 miles in a week," said Short, who spends two months at a time on the road away from his wife and young son in Tampa, Florida. "Last month I drove 12,000 miles, so I'm sticking with Con-way."

Short has 170,000 career miles under his belt -- roughly two thirds of the distance to the moon. Miles matter the most in this business, as truckers are paid by the mile.

The recent economic boom years were a "buyer's market" for good drivers, with some trucking companies seeing driver turnover as high as 130 percent a year. They could pick and choose their jobs and might be offered bonuses of $5,000 just to sign on for work. All that has changed with the recession.   Continued...

<p>Freight trucks are driven on the Fisher freeway in Detroit, Michigan March 27, 2009. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook</p>