Trucking in Turmoil: Unravelling the Critical Case of DRIVER DEFICITS

India’s trucking sector is facing a severe driver shortage, disrupting supply chains and escalating costs. Rooted in poor training, harsh working conditions, and a lack of social security, this issue impacts economic growth with immediate shipping delays and long-term risks like an ageing workforce and inflation. The recent exodus of drivers, due to various hardships, has worsened the crisis. Through this special feature, we explore the root causes, discuss the immediate and long-term risks, and analyze potential solutions for tackling the crisis of driver deficits in the trucking sector.

India’s trucking sector is facing a significant downturn as the country’s driver shortage has reached critical levels. The transportation industry, which is a vital artery of the Indian economy, is grappling with an acute scarcity of skilled drivers, leading to disrupted supply chains and increased operational costs. This exacerbating issue has been threatening to undermine the efficiency and reliability of freight movement across the nation, posing serious challenges for businesses dependent on timely deliveries.

As per estimates, the nation is currently facing a shortage of nearly 2.2 million drivers. As the driver deficit continues to grow, it is important to understand that this is not a phenomenon that is unknown.

A persistent challenge for decades, the drivers’ shortage has historically been due to poor working conditions, and a lack of social security for drivers. Despite being the backbone of the logistics sector, truck drivers often face long hours, extended periods away from home, and insufficient rest, which affects their health and deters many from entering or remaining in the profession.

Commenting on the same, Venu Kondur, CEO, Lobb Logistics, said, “A critical but often overlooked aspect of global logistics, especially in India, is the compensation for truck drivers. The perceived shortage results in an estimated annual loss of about Rs 60,000 crore, with over 8.5 million truck drivers facing health issues, lack of rest, physical stress, and mental pressure.”

In addition to this, Mr Kondur noted that the proposed legislation under Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, with stringent provisions against truck drivers, has faced strong opposition from transporters nationwide, raising concerns about potential disruptions in the supply chains.

Another issue is the swift integration of technology into the logistics sector, which has yielded efficiency gains but also ushered in a notable challenge – a widening skill gap among drivers. This phenomenon manifests in a slower uptake of technological innovations, attributed to the reluctance or inability of the existing workforce to embrace these changes.

Presenting a different perspective, Vijay Vashisht, Vice President, Safexpress says, “The slow adoption of technology that could streamline logistics and reduce driver workload has compounded the problem.”

Consequently, the industry clearly stands at a crossroads, balancing the potential of technological advancements with the reality of a workforce striving to keep pace.

In addition Mr Vashisht mentions, “The ageing workforce, with many nearing retirement and insufficient young drivers entering the profession, exacerbates the issue. The broader economic slowdown has reduced resources for driver training and incentives. Also, large-scale infrastructure projects require more drivers, further straining supply.”

These problems have created a steady decline in the number of truckers available across the nation. The latest flare-up of driver shortage is due to a massive exodus of drivers.

 The reason being?

• Drivers from across regions are going back to their home towns or villages for weddings or voting.

• The excruciating heat

• Surging truck rentals across various regions despite a diminishing requirement for vehicles.

Calling the driver shortage an ongoing issue, Abhishek Gupta, Secretary, All India Transporters Welfare Association (AITWA), highlights the major current issues for the shortage being heat, increasing trucks vs. reducing drivers, and job security/lack of benefits. He adds that the immense harassment on the road by the RTO, police, and GST is also a major hassle faced by drivers, which increases their stress.

The recent reports by the AITWA underscore a paradox in the current job market: despite rising unemployment rates, the trucking industry continues to face a severe driver shortage.

This persistent issue is primarily attributed to the challenging conditions in which truck drivers operate across the country.

Truckers currently contend with little or no infrastructure on highways for proper rest, sanitation, food, and parking and are in constant fear of their cargo, trucks, and lives.

As reported by AITWA, truck rentals have increased significantly in most regions, despite a decreasing number of available drivers. As the number of commercial vehicles on the road rises and the pool of qualified drivers shrinks, an increasing number of vehicles are expected to become idle in the near future.

This diaspora has significantly amplified the driver shortage, leaving trucking companies scrambling to find qualified personnel to meet the growing demands of the economy.

Understanding the Impact

The driver shortage in the trucking industry is having significant immediate and long-term effects on various segments of the sector, prompting businesses to adapt and implement strategies to mitigate these impacts.

In the short term, the shortage is causing shipping delays and major supply chain disruptions, especially for businesses relying on just-in-time (JIT) inventory management.

Moreover, this decreases efficiency and results in increased costs as trucks are making longer trips to pick up and deliver loads, leading to higher fuel expenses and increased wear and tear on vehicles. These costs are often passed on to consumers through higher prices or absorbed by businesses, resulting in decreased profits.

“Specific efforts, such as Varuna Group’s initiative to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and promote safe sex practices among long-distance truckers, exemplify a commitment to driver welfare. Through partnerships with organisations like AHF India Cares, this campaign provides free HIV testing & treatment, awareness sessions, and condom distribution, particularly targeting highrisk groups like long-haul drivers,” VIVEK JUNEJA, Founder and Managing Director, Varuna Group

This is an abridged version of the Special Feature published in the June edition of the Logistics Insider Magazine. To read the complete story, click here.

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