Industry seeing shortage of fuel delivery drivers

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) The trucking industry nationwide is seeing a shortage of drivers and that's leaving some area heating fuel businesses out in the cold.

"If you can't get drivers to deliver the oil, you can't deliver it. You know what I mean?" said Joe Greene, who has owned his home heating business for the last 16 years. He has four employees, which includes two drivers, based out of his modest office space in Hartford. "An oil truck is a very big responsibility, you can't just put any CDL driver in it."

And CDL drivers are in high demand. The trucking industry needs about 50,000 more drivers, a statistic that is expected to increase. Two of Greene's drivers recently left for bigger companies who could offer sweeter deals. He's concerned that eventually, the driver shortage could force him to sell. "I've had four of them in this year looking to buy out," Green said.

On top of the commercial drivers license, fuel delivery drivers also need their hazmat endorsement, which the experts say is another hurdle, despite a starting wage of $23 an hour plus benefits.

But because peak demand for drivers is during the cold, the industry is looking at new partnerships.

"We sell half our product in just 90 days," said Matthew Cota with the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

The group recently met with contractors in the paving industry. "In the short term, we see sharing seasonal drivers as an opportunity to have those truck seats filled," Cota said.

There are currently two bills in Congress address the shortage as well. One would allows drivers more time on the roads and the other lowers the age a driver can get a CDL from 21 to 18.

"We need more plumbers, we need more electricians, we need more gas techs and oil techs, and the way to get that is to do more outreach to the tech schools and to the young people to get them to recognize there is a viable industry here," Cota said.

Back at Greene's shop, he says he will deliver to his 1,000 customers this winter regardless of the shortage, but he fears the outlook down the road. "The old guys are retiring and tired of pulling that hose through snow. It's not easy," he said.

Reporter Adam Sullivan: Is there any downside?
Matthew Cota: Listen, if you have a CDL in your wallet and you don't want to work for TV anymore, I'll get you a job before dinner time.

Cota says that home heating fuel continues to be a thriving industry, despite the shortage. He says the experts are taking a closer look at how the consumer is affected in terms of cost. But, in the meantime, the pitch is geared towards the next generation of drivers who don't mind being outdoors helping to turn up the heat on the region's frigid winters.