The current shortage in gasoline tanker truckers could lead to gasoline outages and/or increased prices this summer, reports the Hill.
With potentially millions of people poised to break the pandemic seal on their home’s front door this summer and head out for a road trip, that trip may end up being fuel challenged.
While there isn’t a shortage of actual gasoline, there is a shortage of the truck drivers needed to deliver the gas to stations.
Early pandemic-related lockdowns as well as business shutdowns caused tanker truck drivers to seek other work because gasoline demand plummeted.
"We've been dealing with a driver shortage for a while, but the pandemic took that issue and metastasized it," Ryan Streblow, executive vice president of National Tank Truck Carriers, told CNN Business.
The industry's trade group, the National Tank Truck Carriers, said somewhere between 20% to 25% of tank trucks in the fleet are parked heading into this summer due to a paucity of qualified drivers.
At this point in 2019, only 10% of trucks were sitting idle for that reason, they said.
Not every truck driver can drive a tanker truck, it requires special safety certification.
Holly McCormick, vice president in charge of driver recruitment and retention at Groendyke Transport, an Oklahoma tanker company, said, “A lot of drivers didn't want to do the safety protocols.”
Another problem, she said, was the shutdown of many driver schools early in the pandemic.
Making matters worse for the industry, McCormick said, a new federal clearinghouse went online in January 2020 to identify truck drivers with prior drug or alcohol violations or failed drug tests, which knocked about 40,000 to 60,000 total drivers out of the national employment pool, reported CNN Business.
In normal times, driver turnover can run around 50% on an annual basis, but that spiked to a roughly 70% annual rate in April of last year, according to Brad Fulton, director of research and analytics at Stay Metrics, a trucking recruiting and retention firm.
Tanker operators are raising pay to try to fill their drivers' seats and raising the rates they charge customers accordingly. "I had to double my recruiting budget to get the same number of drivers," said McCormick.
Jeff Lenard, spokesman at the National Association of Convenience Stores, said his members are very worried about what the driver shortage will mean for their deliveries, especially with demand for gas already back up to 97% of where it was at this time in 2019.
"I've talked to retailers, they say there could be places where there are brief outages," he said. "If they have no fuel, they have no business. People aren't going to stop in for a sandwich if you don't have fuel."
Vacation hotspots are most at risk of shortages, and there were some sporadic outages reported in Florida, Arizona and northwest Missouri during the recent Spring Break period, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service reported CNN Business.
But even if only a few stations run out of gas, that could spark a run on gasoline as drivers will start topping off their tanks to avoid running dry down the road, said Kloza.
"Imagine the hoarding with toilet paper and topping off of gas tanks that we see after hurricanes and you can see what might happen," as demand increases, added Kloza.
All of this could put pressure on gas prices, which typically rise at the start of the summer as seasonal regulations take effect requiring the more expensive "summer blend" of gasoline needed to combat smog.
The national average price of regular gas already stands at an average of $2.89 a gallon, up more than 60% from a year ago when prices and demand were bottoming out. Kloza thinks the national average will tip $3 a gallon this summer, reported CNN Business.
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