Shipper Best Practices

How to keep your Intermodal freight moving despite the truck driver shortage

Follow these best practices to capitalize on the intermodal driver advantage and keep your freight moving.


Why truck drivers are attracted to intermodal freight

Though the truck driver shortage continues to grow, many providers find truck drivers gravitating and sticking with intermodal transportation. Intermodal transportation is the movement of freight by combination of rail and road, typically in 53' intermodal shipping containers. It’s used when a shipper needs to cost-efficiently move long-transit freight.

Driving intermodal freight is attractive to truck drivers:

  • There’s consistent freight once shippers realize the benefits of shipping via the rail
  • They have more home time and family time
  • There’s an opportunity to establish personal, face-to-face relationships with shippers
  • There’s less unloading and more streamlined work processes

Because quality truck drivers find intermodal transportation appealing, they are more likely to enter (and stay) in the line of work, providing shippers access to more reliable capacity and truck-like service. 

Follow these best practices to capitalize on the intermodal driver advantage

1. Seek intermodal providers that employ professional, qualified truck drivers

It’s important to work with providers that thoroughly vet their truck driving candidates. To ensure freight is moved by qualified truck drivers, shippers should look for providers that go beyond the federal law requiring urinalysis to remove unqualified candidates. Shippers can be sure the most qualified candidates are behind the wheel of their freight if their provider is investing in hair follicle testing and other qualification practices.

2. Connect with an intermodal carrier with a robust truck driver network

Many carriers are leaving the market as the cost of doing business increases and regulations, like the ELD mandate, require them to invest in newer technologies and processes. A small or geographically narrow driver pool should be a sign of concern for shippers evaluating intermodal providers.

3. Work with an intermodal carrier that employs uniformed, company truck drivers

Company drivers are not the only source of driver power; owner-operators also keep freight moving. However, many carriers are struggling to keep up with increasing employment requirements. Lawsuits have mounted, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in settlement agreements. Additionally, new regulations like California’s Assembly Bill 5 are increasing requirements for contractors. It’s vital that shippers find providers that attract and retain company uniformed intermodal truck drivers.

4. Collaborate with an intermodal carrier to maintain driver-friendly freight characteristics

With fewer drivers in the market to haul freight, providers are prioritizing cost-effective freight with shipper of choice characteristics such as drop and hook instead of live loads and open delivery windows. Many carriers are collecting driver feedback about shippers and their locations. Those with more positive feedback are finding their freight prioritized, which helps with driver retention. After all, shippers and providers are equally responsible for helping to identify and make improvements to the shippers’ freight to increase driver retention and improve service.

Published November 2019

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