Thoughts as We Look to the Future

We buy and sell a lot of truckload transportation which means when capacity tightens, Barton’s outbound call to shipment ratio spikes and the day’s business becomes more difficult to execute. Over the course of the next three years, we expect a continued contraction in the supply of drivers. I’ve heard a number of talking heads use the term “driver crisis” or “driver shortage.”

As rates increase in the face of driver scarcity, I believe that U.S shippers and carriers alike will be compelled to act in ways that we once considered “unthinkable.”

Some of the solutions I discuss today, that prior to now were off the table include:

• Captive Routes that pay trucks to move empty in order to maximize productivity

• Dedicated and Captive Route plans that account for driver domiciles

• Cross docks to break long haul shipments into multiple regional legs where tractors relay on to the other (HOS patterns engineered for near continuous movement)

• An ever growing interest in autonomous vehicle technology

In the coming months, I will expand on these subjects in an effort to provide insight from where I sit.

So the single biggest question that occupies my mind is “when will it happen?” When will autonomous vehicles begin to appear in commerce? Will it happen quickly? Will the government act as a catalyst or a bottleneck? Will other countries beat us to the punch? What will rates do when the productivity constraints associated to driver regulation, begin to disappear because the driver tractor relationship moves from “one driver to one truck,” to “one driver to many trucks”? Does this country need more infrastructure or does it need to “rewire” the infrastructure in place in anticipation of the impending capacity gain in the transition from humanly operated vehicles to autonomous vehicles? How will vehicles communicate with each other and what is a “vehicle to vehicle” aka V2V network? How will traffic-control centers balance navigation & route planning against road congestion? How much carbon can be eliminated from our community’s air because of efficiencies unavailable to vehicles dependent on human control? How will inter-modal be impacted by autonomous vehicles? Who will be left standing at the end of the transition?

Transportation technology will evolve in the next five years at an exponential pace. In the coming blogs, I will study each of these questions out loud and offer answers from the perspective of a market maker. I encourage idea exchange and debate. Good ideas are timeless, and we’d like to take a break from the “driver crisis” to focus on good ideas tomorrow, next year, and in the years to come.

Criss Wilson

Vice President of Operations