Prof: Truckers should ditch convoy, go for hub-and-spoke system

EUGENE, Ore. - The majority of the stuff you buy gets to the store by truck, but truck drivers can barely keep up.

Turnover is high. Time on the road away from family is long.

But the trucking industry is important enough to warrant study.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics released in 2009, over 70 percent of the commodities moving in the United States went by truck - nearly $8.3 trillion dollars worth.

In recent years, there's been a dramatic drop in the number of truck drivers, said Oregon State Universty professor Hector Vergara.

Vergara blames traditional trucking methods like "point-to-point," where drivers will take a load from point A to point B. Vergara said using this style means drivers are traveling the entire lower 48, from Los Angeles to New York City.

"The quality of life for long-haul truck drivers is poor, and it shouldn't have to be that way," he said. "Truck drivers will spend weeks, if not months on the road before going home."

In his ongoing study, Vergara said a "hub-and-spoke" method could revolutionize the way that truck transportation is handled.

Vergara said truck companies could create hubs across the U.S., sort of like air travel. "This will keep drivers in their regions, and save them from driving long hours," he said.

Vergara says truck drivers will also be able to pass-off loads to other drivers within the companies half-way, keeping loads full and drivers closer to home.

"There's a benefit for the driver if they can return home more frequently," he said. "There's the benefit for the carriers because they have a better utilization of the organization of their resources."

Billy Dover at Leavitz Freight Service in Springfield said the trucking industry will need to move to a better system to save their drivers.

Dover said Vergara's study is suited for cookie-cutter companies like UPS, Target and Walmart that need distribution facilities.

"Companies like J.B. Hunt or Swift have already begun implementing the hub-and-spoke style because they have the trucks and drivers to do so," he said.

Dover said only a percentage of truck companies will be able to implement this hub style because many companies like Leavitz Freight Service transport specialty loads. He said many loads don't match sizes or weights, and companies don't have lots or permits to park loads in a strategic location.

The trucking industry has seen a dramatic loss in drivers. "The turnover rate on a national average is near 100 percent," Dover said, "as a new driver comes in, another leaves. The average age of a driver is in his 50s."

A more strategic approach like the hub-and-spoke will create a more structured schedule for employees.

Dover agrees with the study and says despite all the variables, truck companies don't have a choice. "Having a more organized and stable work environment will promote better health, less stress and allows you to bring in a younger workforce."