A promising future for truck drivers: “Ain’t nothin’ gonna get in our way”

Unfortunately, many drivers are rather gloomy about the future. Is their lack of optimism justified? I don’t think so. Soon enough, they will once again serve as the calling card of their transport company.

My friends have a very romantic idea of truck drivers. Along the lines of what C.W. McCall once sang: “Cause we got a little convoy / Rockin’ through the night. / Yeah, we got a little convoy, / Ain’t she a beautiful sight? / Come on and join our convoy. / Ain’t nothin’ gonna get in our way. / We gonna roll this truckin’ convoy / ‘Cross the U-S-A. / Convoy!”
But those same friends also loathe transport. They want to keep trucks out of the passing lanes on the freeway and they want a truck-free city too. Yet without truck drivers, my favorite bar wouldn’t have any more beer. Without drivers, my friends wouldn’t have any fresh steaks to go with their potatoes, and they couldn’t buy any new running shoes. Without the blood, sweat and tears of truck drivers, everything would come to a standstill – also for my friends.

The profession of truck driver has changed over the past 20 years. They are under a lot of pressure to be on time wherever they go and the level of appreciation for their work is unreasonably low.
Long-distance drivers

Long-distance drivers in Europe will be “kings of the road” who safely travel long distances with their well-filled long ecocombi’s. Their trucks will be driving in convoy on ever-smarter TransEuropean networks (TEN-T) between interconnected synchromodal hubs.

The truck will be an expensive, high-tech command center. Platooning, where one driver is followed by two or three unmanned trucks, will be a reality in just five or ten years. They will communicate with traffic managers by means of intelligent transport systems (ITS) in order to make optimal use of the infrastructure. This will mean a lot of responsibility for the better-trained driver, who could be compared to the pilot of a Boeing jet.

Major European chain managers will be directing the transport flows from their “control towers”. In this sector, drivers will be working for flexible subcontractors from countries where the wages are lower than elsewhere. As a consequence of a greater use of railways and inland shipping, but also of higher efficiency in transport networks (less waiting, more freight), drivers will gradually be getting less work in the coming five to ten years.
Short-distance drivers

Transport for shorter distances will be gaining in importance as a result of the increasing urbanization in Europe. Amsterdam alone is currently growing by 1,000 new inhabitants each month. Drivers in the cities will only be covering about 50 to 75 miles per day. Already now, trucking companies in the Netherlands are traveling mainly short distances with their freight. Nearly 85% of the goods are delivered within 185 miles of where they were loaded.

Cities are where most truck drivers are already working, whether as employees of a logistics service provider or as haulers with their own vehicles.

The rise of smaller nano ‘convenience’ stores”, renovation works, home shopping and C2C marketplaces, 3D printing and new concepts in healthcare means that transport in the cities and residential neighborhoods will need to be more frequent, quicker and fresher. The transport network will become even more finely meshed. Who is still going to have a kitchen in their tiny apartment? Even just doing you own grocery shopping with a car is so 2012…

The distribution in cities and residential neighborhoods will become practically invisible. Cleaner, quieter, safer and smaller vehicles will be the new standard. Equipped with onboard computers, the vehicles will be connected with local traffic-control centers to be able to avoid congestion, roadwork and schools.

The truck driver will need to navigate deftly between cars, public transit buses, pedestrians and cyclists. His (or her) truck will be considered a guest. Only those drivers who really know the way and who strictly observe the rules will be welcome. A simple driving license really isn’t going to be enough any more. Even just the idea of leasing a truck tomorrow and becoming a transport contractor will no longer be a viable option.

As it once was, the truck driver will be the poster boy (or girl) of the transport company: customer friendly, safe and presentable. Of those truck drivers who are currently behind the wheel, one of four will have retired by 2022. In a declining labor market, it will be tough to find the right professionals – men and women – to replace them. Logistics service providers and haulers who want to arrange their transport themselves will need to foster the professionalism of their drivers.

I’m not particularly gloomy about a future in the transport sector – especially not when it comes to the valuable local distribution of goods into cities and residential neighborhoods. But employers and employees (and their unions) in the logistics industry are really going to need to start working together if they are going to bring about the necessary innovations in transport.

If I start to get discouraged, all I have to do is watch that terrific TV ad for Amstel beer.

Wouldn’t it be great if the world looked like that in 2022? With the right of way for truck drivers!

Walther Ploos van Amstel.

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