Monday, April 07, 2008

Truck Driving and the Economy

Look around you. Seriously, do it right now. Everything you see was moved by a truck driver at some point. Your food. Your clothes. The wallpaper. The carpet. The materials that make up the room you are sitting in. That fake tree over there. Even the real ones lining the boulevard outside. The drapes. Your car. Everything. It was all moved somewhere for your convenience by truck drivers. How many trucks are out there on the road doing this? Hundreds? Thousands? Try 15.5 million.[1] Here's a quote from one statistic site:

A typical tractor-trailer raises about $40,000 a year in federal/provincial taxes and fees.Trucks make "just-in-time" delivery possible - no other mode of delivery can match the service provided by the trucking industry. Over 269,000 commercial trucks cross the Manitoba-US border each year. In 1998, $6.06 billion of Manitoba's exports are to the United States. In 1998, $7.45 billion of Manitoba's imports are from the United States. 80% of Manitoba's merchandise trade with the United States is shipped by truck.Canada and the United States trade $300 billion in goods and services every year. More than 66% of the goods travel by truck.Each year trucks cross the Canada-US border over 10 million times. (that's one trip every three seconds).For-hire trucking directly and indirectly contributes $890 million of Manitoba's GDP.

Also, the trucking industry accounts for 12.8% of all the fuel purchased in the U.S. That means 12.8% of the fuel industry's income is guaranteed. America can't operate without it. Right now our economy is hurting. People are buying less. Things are being shipped less. And shipping is becoming more expensive. Why? In 2002 the average price for fuel was $1.26 per gallon. By 2004, two years later, it was still only $1.58 per gallon.[3] The next year, 2005, Diesel fuel shot up to $3.15 per gallon. [3] It more that doubled in less than 1 year. Each penny increase in diesel costs the trucking industry $381 million over a full year. [4]Here's another interesting statistic: on average, every time oil prices go up 10 percent, 150,000 Americans lose their jobs. [5] Prices are still high and going higher. The average profit margin for the trucking industry is 4.8% [6] while the average profit margin for the oil industry is 8.2% [7] Trucking is the foundation for America's economy. The industry provides over 9 million jobs [8] and makes even more possible by moving needed goods and materials across the country. About 88% of Truckers and warehouse workers are non-union. About 10% of all truckers are independent or "Owner Operators." The rising fuel prices are especially hurting these guys. How can self employed workers unite to create better working conditions? Something, either alternative fuel or energy, or controls on oil companies price increases, I don't really know, but something has got to give. Maybe biodiesel is the answer? At the moment biodiesel is not significantly cheaper than petrodiesel but a more widespread use of biodiesel would certainly lower the demand for petrodiesel. Also, owner-operators could conceivably produce their own - the only problem being the extremely large quantity they would need to produce, and having it available where they needed it when they needed it. It seems to me, the only thing that can really save independent drivers is for them to unite and work together for a solution. I think biodiesel has a lot of potential for being that solution but truckers would need to unite and work together to make it happen. Until then, I would encourage biodiesel sellers to target independent truck drivers as potential customers and encourage independant drivers to use it over petrodiesel whenever possible. Thus endeth my political rant.

Just to make things more complicated, there is a serious drawback to biodiesel when it comes to environmental effects and third-world living conditions. Though I still support biodiesel, I think it is important to be aware of these issues and try to work for solutions to these problems as we further develop methods of biodiesel use and production. For details, see this article:


  1. Great post! It might be hard to hear, but I think trucking *should* be expensive, as should fuel. There should be good incentive for people to think twice (or thrice) before buying things that were grown or produced thousands of miles away. Especially the cheap crap that is only cheap because someone else's community/environment/resources were exploited ("but hey, we don't know them, we are pretty sure they don't look like us, so why should we care?"). There should be a good reason for people to figure out how to grow/make/build their own, even in an apartment or urban environment. It is just too easy to buy...

    But.. I do think that it is important that those rare and exotic foods, spices, textiles, and other such resources can find their way around the world, and for that I am thankful for trucks and drivers. Keep on trucking!

    Biodeisel from waste vegetable oil is a good first step, and a network of processing co-ops in tight relationship with owner-operators could be a feasible short-term solution, while conversion to other biofuels (ie. methane, oilgae) in the future would provide a much more sustainable solution long-term.

  2. Repy to tech.samaritan:
    I heartily agree with you that people should be encouraged to make use of local resources and their own skills rather than buying overpriced low quality crap that's been carted around the country. It should be noted though, that not all regions of the country are created equal when it comes to local resources especially food and building materials. Perhaps it was unwise to settle these areas in the first place, but the fact is people live there now and need food and shelter like the rest of us. I hope that in the future things like the internet will encourage and enable people to be more independant and rely less on mass consumerism. What I'd really love to see is more bartering and less buying - the internet is such a great way to accomplish that.

  3. as a biodiesel backer, I'm chiming in here to say that biodiesel should be made from algae...leaving the soil to grow food.

    thanks for the informative post.

  4. Reply to dennis family:
    I think it was in New Zealand, but somewhere in the world they are producing biodeisel from the algae that grows in their waste-water treatment facilities. Again, one of my all time favorite ideas - waste producing energy. Another American waste disposal company has begun producing energy from the heat that is produced by decomposing garbage. How brilliant is that? It gives me great hope for the future. And kind of reminds me of a scene from Back-To-The-Future...but I digress...