Companies pile on perks to keep drivers truckin'

Fri Aug 10, 2012 10:10am EDT
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By Lynn Adler

LODI, Ohio (Reuters) - Truck stops are getting a makeover as companies add amenities to combat a growing shortage of a precious commodity: drivers.

On a blistering July afternoon, truckers at TA and Petro stops in Ohio played basketball, cooled off in a 60-seat theater showing Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in "Sherlock Holmes" and had their blood pressure checked by nurse practitioners.

TravelCenters of America, which runs TA and Petro rest stops, and other truck stop operators have spent millions of dollars over the last two years on jogging trails, gyms, clinics, private showers and healthier menus in a bid to enhance driver loyalty and keep the country's 3 million truckers on the road.

Trucking companies are conducting a parallel campaign. Worried they cannot afford pay hikes big enough to retain experienced drivers and entice new ones, Con-Way Inc, Ryder System Inc, Swift Transportation Co and others offer perks and cushier sleeper cabs to improve the job's quality of life.

"Probably the number one thing is pay, but the showers and other amenities and restaurants are all fantastic," said Toney "ZZ" Murr of Brevard, North Carolina, who has been driving for more than 30 years.

Jobs in construction paid an average of about $45,000 last year, and electrician salaries averaged $53,000, compared with about $40,000 for heavy- and tractor-trailer truck drivers, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Average driver salaries, based on government data, rose 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent annually over the past three years.

Keeping enough drivers on the road is critical for the industry, which moves about two-thirds of all freight in the United States. But a shortage of drivers, already approaching 100,000 truckers, is deepening even with U.S. unemployment over 8 percent.

By the end of next year, the shortage could more than double to 250,000, according to Noel Perry, principal of research firm Transport Fundamentals in Cornwall, Pennsylvania.   Continued...

A truck driver selects food from a lunch buffet inside a TA Truck stop in Lodi, Ohio July 9, 2012. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk