ORLANDO, Fla. — About a dozen semi-trucks and trailers sat idle this week in front of Inland Transport, an Orlando-based freight service that sends rigs and freight across the U.S.

What You Need To Know

  • Orlando-based Inland Transport says it has 30 trucks but only 16 drivers

  • The company says it's offering increased pay but still getting no applicants

  • Lyft and Uber also boast incentives as vaccinations and demand increase

Inland employee Bob Tkachuk singled out a yellow truck hidden among a cluster of four.

“It has an engine issue,” he said. “We just don’t have the need to fix it because we don’t have a driver.”

Inland owner Stan Rudnitsky pointed to a truck near that one.

“The same issue since last March,” he said. “No driver.”

Inland Transport says it continues to grapple with reported nationwide driver shortages that have disrupted various transportation sectors, including the Uber and Lyft ride-sharing platforms.  

Rudnitsky said this week his company employed 16 drivers for a fleet of 30 trucks. He also said he saw no sign those 14 empty cabs would be filled soon.

“I've got trucks sitting for well over a year now with no driver,” he told Spectrum News 13. “I’ve never seen this. I’ve never seen so many ‘now hiring’ signs in my life.”

Employers’ stance on jobless benefits

The trucking industry has bemoaned driver shortages for years but most notably in recent months amid claims from companies, including Inland Transport, that workers choose unemployment compensation over work.

Ride-sharing company Lyft suggested likewise early this month when CEO Logan Green said on a first-quarter earnings call that federal unemployment benefit supplements “clearly” have affected “the whole ridesharing industry.”

Restaurants and other businesses maintain the same stance. That comes with support from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose administration last week announced it would end a weekly $300 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit beginning June 26.

Meanwhile, reports show some workers fearful or anxious about returning to work because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Also, a February report from the Pew Research Center said 66% of adults surveyed seriously considered changing occupations since they became unemployed.

As for long-haul drivers, health officials long have emphasized risks and health effects.

Regardless, reports say driver shortages are disrupting the supply chain, including gasoline, and making it more difficult to find a ride on Lyft or Uber, resulting in higher prices.

Uber and Lyft acknowledge a need for more drivers and emphasize incentives. This comes amid reports that some drivers are holding out for better offers.

Without referring to a driver shortage, an Uber spokesperson said in an email to Spectrum News this week: “With more people getting vaccinated and moving around, riders in Orlando are using the Uber app more. To meet this returning rising demand, we are reinvesting in bringing back drivers who are an essential part of the community and are helping get the city moving again.”

A Lyft spokesperson told Spectrum News likewise: “We’re seeing big increases in demand for rides, as vaccines roll out and people start moving again. We’re working to meet demand, including providing incentives to drivers, who are busier and earning more than they were even before the pandemic.”

The Uber spokesperson said the company temporarily was “boosting earnings in Orlando so right now drivers working at least 20 hours a week typically earn $24.14 per hour.”

Rudnitsky, Inland Transport’s owner, suggested he considers some Uber drivers potential Inland drivers.

“I’ve spoken to many guys, years ago when this Uber thing became the thing,” he said. “They were like, ‘Screw driving semi-trucks; I’m going to become an Uber driver and make about the same kind of money.’ Two months later, they’re asking for their job back.”

‘No calls’ despite incentives

Tkachuk, who recruits drivers for the company, said Inland now offers up to $1,000 per week, up from $800 a week, to drivers who transport within Florida. Unlike long-haul drivers who spend days on the road, he said, the Florida drivers spend their evenings at home.

“And no calls,” he said.

For drivers who transport outside the state, he said, the company increased pay from 48 cents per mile to as high as 54 cents per mile. That suggests a driver could earn more than $600 for a one-way haul from Orlando to Chicago, which takes about 18 hours. The company also offers bonuses for every delivery and pickup, he said.

“And they’re just not coming in,” Tkachuk said of applicants.

Rudnitsky said his company had received up to 10 calls a day from potential applicants, two or three of whom would show up for an interview.

“Now we don't even get a call a day,” he said.

Rudnitsky said he followed his father’s trucking-business tracks and started Inland Transport, which has been in Orlando since 2007.

His company now includes a repair unit that services his trucks and those of other people and companies.

One of the bays housed an Inland semi-tractor with an engine half torn apart. Because the truck had no driver, the company figured it made sense to give it an overhaul.

Inland employee Yuri Mazun said he gets the impression that some drivers “are willing to go somewhere else and find the highest-paying job.”

“They’re just hopping around from company to company because they know there’s demand for drivers,” he said.

Increased demands from drivers

Tkachuk, Inland’s recruiter, told Spectrum News about truck owners who say they’ve had drivers request salaries of up to $3,000 per week, with demands that the company pay their monthly car payments and outfit their sleeper cabs with televisions and gaming devices.

As for truckers who stay put, Inland driver Yoandry Labraba told Spectrum News: “I was working for (Inland) before the pandemic, and I was fine.”

Asked about the effects on his business, owner Rudnitsky said: “Obviously, you’ve still got insurance costs you’ve got to carry and depreciation — trucks are sitting. It’s hopefully not a long-term thing, and it’s already been long enough.

“Simply put, people in this country need to get back to work. This isn't helping anybody.”