The trucking companies of today are going to face a whole new world tomorrow. The fact is, no matter how entrenched, the future of trucking is going to require a whole new way of thinking.
And there’s serious danger to trucking companies who don’t see the writing on the wall and make some adjustments in how they do business. As just one historical example, let us not forget that almost 40 years ago deregulation put most of the motor carriers operating at the time out of business.
What was the catalyst for this? Some would blame the regulation, but the truth is that the carriers of yesterday simply weren’t prepared for the sweeping change that reshaped the face of their industry.
Today, the changes will be even greater. Although it may be a hyperbolic to say, the changes in the pipe today rival in magnitude the very invention of the Interstate Highway System. But what changes do we speak of?
A Cloudy Horizon
One need not look further than their own federal government to see the first big danger. If changes aren’t made to the federal budgetary system, we could see it balloon from 12 percent today to up to 50 percent or higher by 2030.
Sure, 2030 is a long time away, you say, but consider that these changes happen over time. What is plain to see is that America’s borrowing habits have got to change.
But how does this affect trucking, you ask. Consider how the government might fix this problem. If taxes rise by an appreciable amount, you may see a contraction of shipping across the country.
Another area that directly affects our industry is that of infrastructure spending. If money for roads and bridges dries up, motor carriers across the country are going to feel it.
Today, trucking pays around 3 to 5 cents per mile towards infrastructure work, in the form of user fees. In the future, the real work may end up costing the industry anywhere from 15 to 20 cents per mile more.
Is there a possibility that over the next couple of decades trucking could see an increase of anything up to $2.00 in user fees? But while it looks like all doom and gloom, are there changes on the horizon that could benefit the industry?
Savings by Automation
While some say semi-autonomous trucks and smart highways are nothing more than a pipe dream, that pipe dream is rapidly becoming a reality.
Should we see semi-autonomous trucks operating on the nation’s highways by, say, 2030, future fleets could save anywhere up to $1.00 per mile on truckload linehaul operations. Still, on the flip side, you could see price of moving freight cut in half.
Once technologies like truck platooning come fully online, you could see some major industry disruption. And with so many big players stepping in to develop the technology, it’s likely we could see it mature sooner rather than later.
The Future of Intermodal
Of course, freight doesn’t only get around by truck. The United States also moves goods by rail and sea. Some say the rail freight industry is facing a tough road ahead.
The main reason for rail’s woes lie in that it spent the last several years focusing on efficiency, cost reduction and major rate hikes. In the end, for freight by rail to be viable, the industry has got to find a way to lower rates and steal freight opportunities from trucking as costs go down.
Where intermodal freight is concerned, many believe that more innovation needs to take place. For intermodal to become a true competitor, it has got to modify how it currently functions.
The fact is, advanced trucking technologies are going to turn highways into intermodal-like roadways. The main concern for intermodal will lie in whether or not it can branch out from dealing with customers closer to the terminals and better handle mid-range and short-haul markets.
How will the changes in these other industries have an overall affect on trucking? Only the future can tell.