The Impact of Autonomous Trucking on Jobs
By Kellen Betts in Manifold
Trucking and final-mile delivery are vibrant areas of innovation in supply chain. Based on estimates by Pitchbook, the two segments took the lion’s share of more than $30 billion in supply chain tech venture capital deals in 2018 and 2019.  Despite years of investment and substantial attention, however, autonomous driving is still one of the more nascent areas of development. It also has the potential to have a significant impact on the industry.
SAE proposed a taxonomy for driving automation with six stages (0-5).  The most advanced projects at companies like TuSimple, Ike, Uber, Waymo, and others are working on stage-four technologies which means the system will be able to operate the vehicle autonomously in limited conditions, outside of which a human driver must take control. The role drivers have in the self-driving vehicles, and the potential impact to driver jobs, is an important concern. Truck driving is the largest individual occupation in a many states.
Research from Steve Viscelli  at the University of Pennsylvania, and Maury Gittleman and Kristen Monaco  at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggests the impact of autonomous technologies will more nuanced than some of the dire headlines warn. The easiest segments to automate are the long-haul routes operated by full-truckload, less-than-truckload (LTL), and parcel carriers. Long-haul routes employ roughly 400,000 drivers in the US.  The majority of these are in full-truckload, which are lower pay with near 100% turnover compared to often unionized LTL and parcel jobs. 
If long-haul jobs are automated, some estimates suggest they could be offset by an increase in local routes with consolidation of truck freight hubs into “truck ports.” Local, light-duty delivery and port trucking jobs, however, have the lowest pay, fewest benefits, and highest rate of abuse in the industry.  This means economic and political considerations will play a critical role as we drive toward an autonomous future.
Policymakers, collaborating with workers and industry leaders, have an opportunity to tackle some of our biggest challenges: creating good, family-supporting jobs, improving road safety, and reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions. 
 Pitchbook (2018). Maritime start-ups are latest VC darlings as funding pours into ocean logistics. https://pitchbook.com/news/reports/3q-2019-emerging-tech-research-supply-chain-tech
 SAE (2019). J3016: Levels of Automated Driving graphic to reflect evolving standard. https://www.sae.org/news/2019/01/sae-updates-j3016-automated-driving-graphic
 Viscelli, S. (2018). Driverless? Autonomous Trucks and the Future of the American Trucker. UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, and Working Partnerships USA. Retrieved from http://driverlessreport.org
 Gittleman, M., & Monaco, K. (2020). Truck-Driving Jobs: Are They Headed for Rapid Elimination? ILR Review, 73(1), 3–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/0019793919858079
What We're Reading
State of Supply Chain Sustainability Report – 2020 by Alexis Bateman et al. at MIT’s Center for Transportation & Logistics
The Dark Side of Resilience by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Derek Lusk in Harvard Business Review
The Corner That State Universities Have Backed Themselves Into by Bret C. Devereaux in The Atlantic
Do commercial vehicles cruise for parking? Empirical evidence from Seattle by Giacomo Dalla Chiara and Anne Goodchild in Transport Policy
Book of the Week
Review by Kellen Betts
Can we sustain economic growth? Why is GDP the standard measure of both our economies and political institutions? These questions are at the heart of economics, a field often called the “dismal science” and the bane of many undergraduates each fall. In Doughnut Economics, however, Kate Raworth brings to life new insights that emerged in the field over the last decade.
The credit crisis in 2008 was both a shock to the economic system and the field of economics. As the renown economist Alan Greenspan testified to the US Congress in October 2008: “…I found a flaw. I don't know how significant or permanent it is, but I've been very distressed by that fact… [a] flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.”
Doughnut Economics is a timely and relatable read amidst the turbulence of 2020. Drawing off insight from complexity, psychology, and other areas of science, Raworth challenges ideas that informed a generation of neoclassical economists like Greenspan. In doing so she lays out a vibrant and verdant roadmap for a new generation to revolutionize this influential field.
By the Numbers
The average percent of total trip time commercial vehicle drivers spent cruising for parking in downtown Seattle according to research by Giacomo Dalla Chiara and Anne Goodchild at the University of Washington.
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Kellen Betts is Editor of Supply Chain Weekly. He also writes the newsletter Manifold, exploring the intersection of supply chain, sustainability, and technology. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on LinkedIn and @KellenBetts.