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5 Transportation Trends to Watch

Nov. 21, 2022
With 2022 winding down, here are five transportation trends to watch as we head into the new year.

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The transportation industry experienced quite a few twists and turns in 2022. Coming into the year, container ship backlogs were still clogging many of the nation’s ports, supply chain shortages were running rampant and the truck driver shortage was reaching new heights. Rates were high and capacity was low to nonexistent across most transportation modes.

The industry has returned to some level of normalcy since then, but not before experiencing huge spikes in fuel prices and several other roadblocks as the year progressed. Now, as 2022 winds down and 2023 begins to come into view, here are five transportation trends that all manufacturers and distributors should be keeping an eye on:

  1. Everyone is watching the economy. This is an obvious one, but it’s also something that could impact how the transportation industry reacts and adapts in 2023. After experiencing a record-setting 2021, for example, carriers are now bracing for a possible downturn. “I was very much an optimist, and I thought we were going to avoid a recession until probably four or five months ago,” said Bloomberg Intelligence Analyst Lee Klaskow at a recent industry conference, Transport Topics reports. “Now I think we are going to be in a recession, but I’m very bullish on the U.S. consumer. Because of that, I think the recession is going to be short and shallow.”
  2. The gap between available drivers and empty seats has closed a bit. According to Fleet Owner, the driver shortage is easing a bit from the record high a year ago, a trend that could continue during a mild recession in 2023 before doubling over the next decade. Citing American Trucking Associations data, the publication says rising pay and good publicity have helped the trucking industry bring in new drivers. The ATA estimates the industry is short about 78,000 drivers—less than the revised 81,258 worker shortage in 2021. “So it’s down a little bit—but still the second highest level we’ve ever seen,” ATA’s Bob Costello said. Even so, to keep up with demand, the industry needs to hire nearly 1.2 million new drivers over the next 10 years to replace those leaving trucking either through retirement or for other reasons.
  3. Less than truckload (LTL) rates are expected to remain elevated in 2023. A shipping service for relatively small loads or quantities of freight, LTL services are offered both by large, national parcel services and specialized logistics providers. Carriers that operate in this area have seen their base rates and pricing contracts increase lately, says Optym, and most are thriving even in the face of inflation, capacity issues and rising diesel prices. According to a recent Logistics Management study, 78% of shippers expect LTL carriers’ rate to increase in 2023 compared to 2022. Nearly 40% of respondents expect double-digit increases, with 25% expecting a 10% to 14% increase and 13% expecting a rise of 15% or more.
  4. Companies are testing out autonomous trucks. The day when a tractor trailer can barrel down the highway without a human at the wheel is probably still a way’s off, but that hasn’t stopped companies from making and testing out new autonomous and semi-autonomous trucking technology. One of several commercially-available autonomous trucking solutions already in use, PlusDrive requires a driver in the cabin to oversee the system. That person doesn’t have to actively drive the vehicle. Instead, he or she turns on PlusDrive which, in turn, automatically drives the truck on highways in all traffic conditions. It keeps the truck centered in the lane, changes lanes as needed and also handles stop-and-go traffic, according to FreightWaves. Using artificial intelligence (AI) and multiple sensors, autonomous trucks are learning how to correctly evaluate road conditions and learn how truck drivers behave under unusual road conditions. And  through vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, those trucks can also share the learned information and make other vehicles smarter.
  5. Drone delivery takes off. Once considered a futuristic concept, delivering packages by drone is getting closer to reality as technology advances and as more shippers embrace the idea. Expect to see more progress in this area in the coming year. “For as long as there have been commercial drones on the market, people have dreamed of using them for deliveries. Will 2023 be the year drone delivery finally goes mainstream?” Adam Pinsky asks in Top 4 2023 Transportation & Logistics Trends. “That’s what Amazon hopes to do with its new program Prime Air. With drones delivering packages in people’s backyards, Prime Air hopes to develop this service into a full-fledged delivery method.  Google, Walmart, FedEx and UPS are all developing their own drone delivery platforms. “We predict that in 2023, this technology will mature,” Pinsky writes, “and [that] regulations on flying drones beyond line of sight will be improved to make way for this new delivery method.”
About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.

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