‘They’ll be in the same predicament as other employers in terms of finding those drivers’: expert
By John Dujay
After upending the taxi business in many countries around the world, tech company Uber recently announced plans to bring its logistics app north of the border.
“Uber Freight will facilitate seamless domestic and cross-border loads. Carriers and their drivers based in the U.S. and Canada can use the Uber Freight app to run and grow their businesses with ease,” said a blog post on the San Francisco-based company’s website.
The company is hoping for a slice of the US$68-billion trucking industry in Canada which figures into the US$617-billion two-way trade market between Canada and the U.S., says Uber, citing figures from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).
The move follows a recent foray into Europe as the app became available in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. For now, Uber Freight is booking loads only in Ontario and Quebec, but it has further plans to expand into the rest of Canada, says the company.
Companies and drivers can download and use the Uber Freight app, in both English and French, to move freight, according to Uber: “Our platform connects carriers to the right loads and shippers to nationwide capacity.”
The platform promises loads can be booked quickly, and pricing and payments will be instantly available and transparent, minimizing turnarounds.
The move is not unexpected, according to the CEO of the non-profit organization Trucking HR Canada, and Uber will encounter many of the same issues others in the trucking industry face.
“We’re not surprised. They’ve been entering the freight markets, as other disruptors are for sure, and they’re just coming in as a broker, from what I can read,” says Angela Splinter in Ottawa. “They’re going to be in the same predicament as other employers in terms of finding those drivers.”
Despite its heft, the company is not guaranteed to succeed, she says.
“Is it going to impact driver shortage? I don’t know. I’m not sure how much of an impact this will have, because they aren’t an employer of drivers, they are hiring the contractors, so it’ll just be interesting to see,” says Splinter.
“In 2018, we just didn’t have the supply of drivers to meet demand and things are slowing down and changing a little bit right now so it will just be interesting to see how it unfolds.”
As with many industries, the trucking industry suffers from a lack of workers to haul freight, says Uber.
“Canada also faces many of the same industry challenges as the U.S., including a driver shortage, which the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) projects to reach at least 34,000 by 2024. Tens of thousands of drivers are expected to retire over the coming years, with little momentum to attract new talent. These tight market conditions present complex challenges ripe for technology solutions.”
For now, it’s unclear how Uber’s entry into the Canadian market will unfold, says Splinter.
“The market in the U.S. is different than in Canada.”
“Time will tell if they are able to get those contracted drivers to be able to move freight, if they’re able to keep the shippers happy and their customers happy — it will be interesting to see,” she says. “It’s a tough market and there’s a lot of ebbs and flows in the trucking industry, but doesn’t mean they won’t succeed.”
The association and its industry members will have “to be prepared for it and prepared to innovate,” says Splinter.
“We’re really working with our members to make sure that we have some proactive approaches in place to really help the industry moving forward, and we are starting to make some progress and we want to continue with that. But we know that as we move forward with those types of initiatives, there absolutely will be disruptors as that’s the way it is today.”
Already on board is Martin Brower, a logistics and trucking company based in Mississauga, Ont., according to an Uber release.
“As a company with innovation at its core, Martin Brower is always looking for new technologies that help us raise the bar of service for our restaurant partners,” says Kristofer Lorelli, director of freight. “We’re excited to work with Uber Freight to tap reliable capacity and ensure seamless, fast service across North America.”