Every day, a countless number of liquid and dry bulk goods crisscross North America. From gasoline to plastic pellets, they all have one crucial aspect in common: tank trucks carry them all.
Tank trucks are a crucial link in the transportation network, ensuring that we all get the goods we want when we want them.
The majority of tank trucks transport hazardous materials, typically petroleum products, gases, hazardous wastes, and chemicals. Tank trucks may also haul nonhazardous dry bulk materials such as cement and plastics.
State of the Industry
After a rocky time during the recession, the state of the industry is looking up. “We at Atlantic Bulk have seen a return of the business that was lost during the recession, plus we have seen some additional growth,” reports Ward Best, Vice President of Atlantic Bulk Carrier Corporation. “Overall in the industry I believe that most companies that survived the recession have been able to make a full recovery and continue their expansion.”
One major industry challenge remains, however. There simply are not enough drivers working within the industry. “An ATA [American Trucking Association] report estimates that close to 40,000 drivers are needed today just to fill the shortage that is out there,” says Ted Gorski Jr., CEO of Gorski Bulk Transport. “The driver shortage is unfortunately going to be with us for many more years to come.”
Hauling hazardous materials requires careful training, so finding drivers with the necessary skill set can be tough. They must have a Tank Truck Endorsement on their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) as well as a special Hazardous Materials Endorsement if they move hazardous materials. Obtaining this Endorsement requires drivers to meet several requirements, including being fingerprinted and having a background check.
Some drivers simply don’t want to go to the trouble to take these extras steps when there are trucking jobs available that don’t require them. “We do deal in high security times now,” Mr. Gorski remarks. “There are a lot more restrictions and a lot more regulations [regarding what] the drivers are required to hold to maintain their license to operate as international drivers.” Exasperated by the hassle, “some drivers have decided to exit the industry.” Mr. Gorski predicts that the industry’s security concerns will continue to add to the driver shortage well into the future, requiring long-term intervention. “This is going to be an ongoing processes.”
In order to keep qualified drivers on the road, companies like Gorski Bulk Transport are putting extra effort into training programs. “We are trying to make sure that we have ramped up our training and our support program so that we make it as easy as possible for the drivers to be successful in the industry,” Mr. Gorski explains. Once trained and certified, tank truck drivers become a valuable commodity and companies find themselves in sharp competition to attract and retain skilled talent. Drivers come out ahead, since businesses fighting for talent must offer high wages and top-notch benefit packages.
While it may contribute to the industry’s driver shortage, requiring extra training is absolutely necessary in an industry that holds potential dangers both for truck drivers and for others on the road. Extra precautions must also go beyond extensive training and extra certifications. “It takes a lot of support to keep our highways safe, to keep the freight moving smoothly and securely on the highways,” Mr. Gorski explains. “We make sure we’ve got the skills and the technology.” This means that companies must constantly invest in the latest and best equipment and systems, such as satellite tracking devices.
The tank truck industry looks to the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) for representation and support. “One of the things that I think is overlooked at times is the role of our trade associations such as the National Tank Truck Carriers,” Mr. Gorski remarks. “They have done an outstanding job in supporting the industry and taking on the issues that our industry experiences and developing solutions with the different departments and agencies that are involved with keeping our roads safe and keeping the drivers safe and healthy on the highway. They do an important job there and I really don’t think they get the recognition they deserve.”
Founded in 1945, the Arlington, Virginia based association represents the industry before Congress as well as multiple federal regulatory agencies such as the EPA, DOT, and DHS. NTTC also handles many state and local issues that affect the tank truck industry through an affiliate relationship with the American Trucking Associations. The team advocates for tank truck carriers on key issues ranging from motor carrier safety, compliance with federal laws and regulations governing cargo tank design, to maintenance and operations, and vulnerability of hazardous materials – virtually any item that involves federal state or local governments and affects the industry.
Members also benefit from NTTC’s timely industry information, which is communicated via newsletters, issues-oriented policy papers, and leadership meetings. Training opportunities are another critical NTTC service. The association’s seminars focus on everything from maintenance and management to safety and financial planning. These training seminars also enable members to collaborate and network, keeping the industry at its sharpest. “The organization has provided us with contacts and networking opportunities throughout the industry that have been invaluable in helping support our growth,” Mr. Ward remarks. “They are a great organization. We have been a long-term and active member because of the benefits that we have gotten.”
By the Numbers
The National Tank Truck Carriers Tank Truck Industry Market Analysis publication (authored by American Trucking Associations’ Chief Economist Bob Costello and his team) demonstrates just how vital the tank truck industry is to the economy. Released in March 2015, the publication reports that the tank truck industry generated $34.5 billion in revenue in 2013. This figure made up 5.1% of total truck revenue, which totaled a whopping $681.7 billion that year. Tank trucks moved 2.48 billion tons of freight in 2013, which made up 25.6% of all truck freight. To do so, the industry utilized 163,670 tractors that year – approximately 10.9% of the 1.5 million over-the-road tractors operating in the United States.
The Tank Truck Industry Market Analysis publication also found that tank trucks hauled petroleum products (gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel) more than any other type of product – 1.22 billion tons or 49.2% of all tank truck tonnage in 2013. Sands were the second most common product hauled (419.9 million tons/15.2%), followed by all chemicals except for fertilizers and cryogenics (240.9 million tons/9.5%). While chemicals (excluding fertilizers and cryogenics) were not the most frequently hauled material, they actually generated the most revenue for for-hire carriers, bringing in a little under $7 billion and making up 28.3% of all for-hire tank truck revenue. Petroleum products came in a close second, bringing in $6.8 billion in revenue (27.5% of all for-hire tank truck revenues), while cements took third place, earning $2.3 billion (9.5% of all revenues).
After a rocky few years during the Global Financial Crisis, the tank truck industry is back on track and providing exciting opportunities. In particular, industry insiders see increasing potential with shipping goods internationally. “We see great synergy between Canada and the United States,” Mr. Gorski reports. “Our primary area of focus is working on those international routes and those industries that have ongoing trade between those countries.”
Mr. Ward is also optimistic about future opportunities for tank truck carriers. “I think there is always a need for the transportation of the commodities that is handled by the tank truck industry,” he points out. Indeed, as long as Americans and Canadians are dependent on the goods that tank trucks ship, it is almost a guarantee that the industry will remain strong.