Private fleets challenged by aging drivers and older equipment: survey

Private fleets across Canada identified finding truck drivers as their top challenge in 2021, and those hired tended to come from a familiar labor pool.

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

Members of both groups participate in the survey.

(Photo: iStock)

Private fleets in Canada reported a 12.7% driver turnover in 2021, compared to 25% in the United States, he said. And an aging workforce is largely to blame. Forty-four percent of drivers who left Canadian fleets did so due to retirements. The average driver who stays on the job is 51.2 years old.

“You can’t go back,” Moore said.

“This presents some interesting challenges for worker safety and compensation.”

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

Van trailers have been in service for an average of 11.5 years, refrigerated trailers 6.6 years, flatbeds 18.3 years, bulk equipment 25 years and liquid tankers 20 years.

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

The median fleet size participating in the survey included 150 trucks. And the average heavy truck traveled 118,000 km in 2021, compared to 67,700 km traveled by average equipment.

Leasing also continues to be the primary strategy of private fleets for equipment procurement. “We’re seeing a real shift towards leasing as a form of acquisition,” Moore said, referring to 55% of respondents who preferred leasing, 36% who were looking to buy units and 9% who were combining strategies.

Average fuel consumption for heavy units hovered around 6.7 mpg (35.1 L/100 km), nearly identical to the US experience, while medium trucks averaged 7.9 mpg (29 .8L/100km).

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

When measuring success, however, fleets take different approaches to looking at customer service. Almost a third (32%) referred to punctuality, while 25% looked to customer feedback and 29% looked at fill rates.

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

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