Trottenberg acknowledges driver retention problem during nomination hearing

March 4, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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As part of her nomination hearing to become Deputy Secretary of Transportation, Polly Trottenberg acknowledged the importance of the trucking industry and showed that she understands the difference between a driver shortage and a driver retention problem.

Trottenberg testified on Wednesday, March 3, in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation as part of her nomination to become second in command at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Trottenberg served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation from 2014 to 2020.

During the more than two-hour hearing, Trottenberg fielded questions from a variety of transportation topics.

Driver retention

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., asked about the commitment to a strong supply chain and what Trottenberg would do to combat the trucking industry’s driver shortage. During Young’s question, he noted that more than 80% of U.S. communities rely exclusively on trucks for their freight transportation needs.

“I’m coming from a city where we get over 90% of our goods via truck,” Trottenberg said. “We certainly recognize what a crucial industry that is. We will work with you not only on driver recruitment but also retention. I know one of the challenges in the trucking industry is that drivers often come in and get trained and then it is hard to retain them.”

Trottenberg’s transition from the word “shortage” to “retention” is worth noting as it echoes the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s position on the issue. OOIDA has long refuted the claims of a driver shortage, pointing to turnover rates of 90% or more for large carriers. A 2019 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics affirmed OOIDA’s stance, saying the evidence does not support a labor shortage and that increasing wages could alleviate any issues with recruitment and retention.

The distinction between shortage and retention is important as many lawmakers have used the idea of a driver shortage to promote such measures as the DRIVE-Safe Act, which would allow under-21 drivers to operate in interstate commerce. OOIDA opposes the DRIVE-Safe Act.

Highway Trust Fund

Several lawmakers asked Trottenberg about an upcoming plan to rebuild the nation’s highways and how to pay for it.

Finding a way to make the Highway Trust Fund solvent has been a hot topic throughout this Congressional session.

Trottenberg said the administration plans to make a significant investment in the nation’s highways but refrained from offering a funding solution because she is not a member of the administration yet.

Recently, DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg talked about possible funding solutions during a virtual meeting with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Buttigieg said a vehicle-miles-traveled tax was one option but acknowledged that there has yet to be a VMT plan that fully addresses the privacy concerns and technical issues.

Hours of service

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., mentioned the FMCSA’s recent changes to the hours of service aimed at providing drivers more flexibility within the regulations and asked if Trottenberg would work to make sure the changes remained intact.

The new hours-of-service rules went into effect in September, making changes to short-haul limits, the adverse driving provision, the 30-minute break provision, and the split-sleeper provision.

Trottenberg was noncommittal in her answer, saying that she would work with FMCSA if confirmed.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and a coalition of safety groups are challenging the rule changes in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. LL

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Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.