Private fleets challenged by aging drivers and older equipment: Survey

Canada’s private fleets identified the search for truck drivers as their top challenge in 2021, and those who were hired tended to come from a familiar labor pool.

About half the new drivers came from other private fleets, National Private Truck Council (NPTC) executive vice-president Tom Moore said, presenting findings of an annual benchmarking survey to members of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC).

Members of both groups participate in the survey.

Ontario highway
(Photo: iStock)

Canada’s private fleets reported driver turnover of 12.7% during 2021, compared to the 25% seen in the U.S., he said. And an aging workforce is largely to blame. Forty-four per cent of the drivers who left Canadian fleets did so because of retirements. The average driver who remains on the job is 51.2 years old.

“You can’t turn back the hands of time,” Moore said.

“It presents interesting challenges when it comes to safety and workers comp.”

Equipment shortages are presenting challenges of their own. Canadian trade-in cycles for heavy-duty equipment reached 6.3 years and 523,000 km, about a year longer than the timelines reported in the U.S., surveyed fleets said. Medium-duty trucks were kept an average 7.4 years and 503,000 km.

Van trailers remained in service an average 11.5 years, with reefers at 6.6 years, flatdecks at 18.3 years, bulk equipment at 25 years, and liquid tankers 20 years.

“As the equipment gets a little more specialized, the tendency is to stretch out that trade cycle a little bit,” Moore explained.

The median size of fleets participating in the survey included 150 trucks. And the average heavy-duty truck traveled 118,000 km in 2021, compared to the 67,700 km covered by medium-duty equipment.

Leasing continues to be the private fleets’ top strategy for sourcing equipment, too. “We’re seeing a real move to leasing as a form of acquisition,” Moore said, referring to the 55% of respondents who preferred leasing, 36% who looked to purchase units, and 9% who combined the strategies.

Average fuel economy for heavy-duty units hovered around 6.7 mpg (35.1 L/100 km), almost identical to the U.S. experience, while medium-duty trucks achieved an average 7.9 mpg (29.8 L/100 km).

Meanwhile, about two-thirds (67%) of the surveyed Canadian fleets cited safety as their top strategy to reduce costs. “Improving safety is probably the number-one element. If it’s not safe, it’s not efficient,” Moore said. About half the surveyed fleets were looking to reduce empty miles, and 33% wanted to improve fuel economy and driver turnover.

When measuring success, the fleets are taking different approaches to looking at customer service, though. Almost one-third (32%) referred to on-time performance, while 25% turned to customer comments, and 29% looked at fill rates.

“There’s nothing better than knowing what the customer wants,” Moore said.

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