Spain is facing a shortage of drivers – and it’s likely to get worse if current trends continue. We asked Ramón Valdivia, Executive Vice President of IRU member ASTIC and IRU Presidential Executive member, what is being – and should be – done in response.
The shortage of drivers is a global issue, with millions of unfilled bus, coach and truck driver positions threatening the stability and continuity of mobility and supply chains.
Ramón Valdivia discusses the situation in Spain.
How bad is Spain’s driver shortage?
Spain is missing many thousands of bus and truck drivers. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. More than 70% of truck drivers are over 50 years old. The average age of bus drivers is 49.
If current trends do not change dramatically within the next five years, we risk losing a third of our total workforce in the coming years.
On the other hand, under 3% of Spain’s bus and coach drivers are below 25 years of age, while the youth unemployment rate is over 30%, the highest in the European Union.
In my opinion, it’s a very strong indication that younger generations do not have the same interest in the profession as before. Reversing this situation is not easy. It will take at least one generation, but we can’t give up.
What has Spain done in response?
In 2020, after intense lobbying and collaboration with the Ministry of Transport, Spain lowered the minimum driving age for truck drivers from 21 to 18, and for bus and coach from 22 to 21. That’s an improvement, at least on the goods side. For the passenger sector, it’s really not enough.
These are just the first steps, making the profession more attractive to younger generations will take time. Many other aspects need to be tackled.
What other measure has Spain taken?
In March 2022, the Spanish government also approved a new legislation banning the practice of drivers loading and unloading trucks over 7.5 tonnes.
The legislation also compensates, and rightly so, transport operators whose drivers have to wait for over an hour at distribution centres.
What else should be done?
Another issue we must address in my opinion is the lack of security and safety in resting areas and truck parking places. This discourages both men and women from getting behind the wheel.
Our drivers deserve to be treated with dignity. We must build adequate infrastructure, ensuring their safety and comfort.
It’s also very important for carriers and shippers to work together and improve other working conditions.
We’ve been increasing our members’ engagement with the charter on the treatment of drivers at delivery sites, backed by IRU, the European Shippers Council and European trade unions.
The shippers' association in Spain and a number of shipping companies have also signed the charter. Thanks to this collaborative work, we are planning to join efforts with shipping organisations in Spain to widen the coverage of the Charter and involve Spanish ports.
What can be done in the short term?
In the short term, we think hiring professional drivers from third countries can be a temporary solution, and cover part of the gap.
The government should remove the bureaucratic barriers that are hindering the process of hiring foreign professional drivers from Latin America or Morocco. They should allow third-country drivers to obtain a permanent residence permit easily and quickly. The validation and recognition of their driving licences must also be tackled as soon as possible.
We are also studying the process of obtaining a driving licence through the regulated education system. Funding should be made available for training. A huge barrier to accessing the profession is the high cost of obtaining a professional licence and undergoing training. This is only possible at private schools, costing around EUR 5,000.
Most of these challenges and solutions are not unique to Spain. The problem is Europe-wide, even beyond.
Spain is really one example that shockingly illustrates the situation more than others because of the high youth unemployment rate and very low share of young professional drivers.
IRU’s latest report found that truck, bus and coach driver shortages are spiralling out of control in Europe, fuelled by increased transport demand and an ageing driver population.
IRU is pushing the European Union to use the ongoing revision of the EU Driving Licence Directive to lower and harmonise the minimum driving age across the EU, including for passenger transport, as well as to allow young people to start their professional driver training at 17.
In the latest developments, the European Commission’s proposal for the revision of the EU Driving Licence Directive included many promising aspects that can help to address the chronic shortage of drivers in the goods transport sector. But it fell completely short on the passenger side.