Opinion: Trucker shortage exacerbates Cyber Monday shipping concerns

By Karan Pujji

With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, millions of Americans are preparing for a long day in the kitchen, football on the TV, and scores of extended family members taking over their houses. Yet, once the last slice of Pumpkin Pie is eaten, the Thanksgiving holiday also signals something else entirely: the start of the Christmas shopping season.

In the name of bargains, we’ve all seen the people lined up outside of stores on Black Friday and the ensuing chaos that occurs when the doors open. Soccer Moms and Dads morph into tactical teams, doing whatever it takes to lock down the flat screen TV or video game system they’ve got their eyes on.

However, a number of Americans have embraced the less intimidating Cyber Monday as their preferred method to save some money on early Christmas gifts, and this group is growing every year.

For the uninitiated, Cyber Monday takes place on the first Monday after Thanksgiving (this year, it’s November 26). It’s a day when online retailers offer competitive pricing on a number of popular and otherwise expensive items. You reap the benefits of Black Friday deals, but without getting trampled.

Last year, Cyber Monday raked in a record $6.6 billion in sales, making it the largest day of online shopping ever. That number is only expected to grow this year, perhaps as much as 17%, as more and more people embrace online shopping. But, while we’re all clicking away in our pajamas on Cyber Monday, the shipping and trucking industries will be gearing up to deal with the question of how to get all these goods delivered.

We might take these industries for granted, but little do most Americans know, getting your packages delivered is becoming a lot more difficult and expensive. A driver shortage taking shape in the trucking industry has been affecting service and shipping costs for over a decade, and in the past few years this problem has been coming to a head.

Several factors have contributed to the lack of truck drivers entering the workforce, ranging from increased industry regulations to reduced benefits. However, with the economy booming and a sustained low unemployment rate, trucking companies are fighting an even tougher battle to attract drivers away from less-demanding jobs in construction or manufacturing.

The reality of the situation is that things aren’t getting better anytime soon, at a time when the demand for truckers is growing quickly and exponentially. According to the American Trucking Association, the shortage could swell up to 175,000 drivers by 2026. This means we have to get creative about ameliorating things for consumers, truckers, and the economy overall.

A relatively new trailer design known as the Twin 33 shows promise to do just that. A Twin 33 tandem truck is pretty straightforward. It combines two 33-foot trailers hitched together, extending the current length limit for these kinds of trucks 5 more feet but allowing for much-needed extra room to store goods. This design is a part of the “less-than-truckload” class of trucks, referring to trucks that exclusively carry the types of packages you get from online shopping. We’re talking smaller and lighter weight boxes, not pallets being transported around.

While these trucks are not yet legalized nationwide, policymakers in Washington should champion Twin 33s in the year-end transportation appropriations bill moving through Congress. Doing so would have an immediate and positive effect across the board. It would reduce the cost of shipping for consumers, but also for small businesses that have been saddled with the rising costs of doing business in recent years. This solution might sound too good to be true, but the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board examined some of the common critiques against Twin 33s and found that they didn’t hold water.

It seems that we are at a crossroads. Either Congress can continue ignoring the problems that are festering in the trucking industry, or we can start implementing intelligent solutions. But, if the growing population of people turning to the internet for their deals can tell us anything, it’s that something must be done sooner rather than later.

Karan Pujji is a former candidate for the Missouri General Assembly, and a businessman from St. Louis.