Private fleets in the U.S. and Canada aggressively managed and invested in safety programs over the past year, while the ability to find drivers remained a top challenge, according to the latest Canadian Private Fleet Benchmarking Survey.
Details of the survey results were shared by Tom Moore, executive vice-president of the National Private Truck Council, speaking at the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada’s annual conference this week.
Moore characterized 2022 as the year of the “Covid hangover,” with lingering challenges related to supply chains and getting necessary equipment and drivers.
“How did we cope? In Canada and the U.S., we aggressively managed safety,” Moore said. “We turned up the heat in terms of making sure we’re safe and compliant. I’d argue, if you don’t have a safety investment that’s aggressively managed, the rest of the metrics don’t even matter. Safety is the game-changer.”
Private fleets have been making greater investments in on-board safety technologies, while also looking to reduce empty miles and improve fuel economy. Private fleet safety ratings in Canada, among those surveyed, were the best ever since the survey began in 2017. The same held true among private fleets in the U.S., and Moore said early results from this year indicate the trend is continuing.
Two-thirds of surveyed fleets have adopted safety technologies like disc brakes and automated transmissions, while about half are using more advanced technologies such as lane departure warning and collision mitigation systems.
Private fleets in the survey saw their trailer ratios increase to a little more than four per power unit, up from 2.62 the previous year. Moore attributed this to fleets extending trade cycles and buying all the trailers the could, with supply chains curtailing availability. Fifty-three percent of fleets leased their trailers, with 35% buying them and 12% incorporating some combination of the two.
Leasing was also popular with tractors, with 69% of fleets reporting they leased their heavy-duty trucks, the highest level seen in the survey’s history. Moore noted this was part of a broader trend toward outsourcing that included maintenance activities and even compliance initiatives such as drug and alcohol testing.
Heavy-duty truck trade cycles were extended to 6.5 years or 733,000 km. Fleets have been hanging on to medim-duty trucks for 7.4 years on average. Van trailer life has also been extended to 10.1 years in Canada, and 12-14 years in the U.S.
Private fleets responding to the survey are also managing more of their own deliveries. Seventy-two percent of outbound freight movements were hauled by the private fleet, up from 67% the previous year, which Moore said “tells me over the past couple of years, private fleets extended their reach for better control.”
He said private fleets outsourced less freight to third-party carriers as tight capacity in the for-hire space negatively impacted costs and delivery times. The same trend was seen in inbound freight movements, where 60% of freight was hauled by the private fleet, up from 48% the previous year.
Drivers in demand
The driver shortage continued to be a challenge for private fleets, but they are managing to find younger drivers. The average driver age was 49.8 years – below 50 for the first time in the past four years. In the U.S., Moore said, the same trend is true where the average age dipped below 50 for the first time in nine years.
This could be due to private fleets making greater efforts to provide work-life balance — 80% of drivers for surveyed private fleets are home every night. Driver turnover is also improving, down to 9.7% in Canada, the second lowest level in the survey’s history. In the U.S. turnover was 23%, which Moore said, “by trucking industry standards is spectacular, but by private fleet standards, not so much.”
He noted it could be due to the fierce competition for drivers and the allure of more money. Why do drivers leave? Twenty-two percent leave due to retirement, 15% are let go, and 57% leave for another job. Moore said private fleets can reduce turnover by doing a better job during the initial screening process. He said many private fleets are finding success by training existing employees who are already familiar with the business and company culture, such as those working in the warehouse.
However, the two biggest sources of new drivers for private fleets are for-hire carriers and other private fleets.
“If you’re hiring from somebody else, you may be hiring somebody else’s problem,” Moore warned. “I encourage you to do a better job of understanding who you’re bringing on and promoting from within. That person in the warehouse already has your values and understanding of the company, they’re a proven commodity and you can teach them how to drive a truck.”
Private fleet drivers in Canada earned an average of $88,818 per year. Eighty-eight percent enjoyed some form of performance incentives, while 72% of private fleets offered wellness programs for things such as mental health, grief counselling and nutrition.
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