In 2050, ‘trucking’ is nearly synonymous with ‘hitch hiking’, and truckers have become one of the most extreme examples of the gig economy.
Technology has transformed the haulage industry through two distinct but parallel advances. Rising levels of autonomy in vehicles, and the move from fossil fuel to electric.
Autonomy has brought predictability. The greater the number of autonomous vehicles on the road, the lower the number of accidents and delays — at least on the motorways and larger byways that are the major routes for the trucks. This has made stock holding practices even leaner, to the point where the average truck size is smaller, standardised around the 20ft shipping container. Automated warehouses hold stock inside vertical stacks of these containers before breaking them out for picking and packing.
Electric drive played a big part in bringing down the sizes. With lower servicing and fuel costs, there’s less need for the efficiency of large loads. And the smaller requirements and different drive technology have permitted a much more streamlined and efficient design, with the load low to the ground between independently steering pairs of wheels. Articulated vehicles are much less common.
There’s still a cabin at the front. But the person inside isn’t driving. The law requires a responsible person to be inside the vehicle in case of incident or breakdown. But the law requires no formal training beyond a simple introductory video and a set of processes that the person can be walked through by a digital assistant.
These truckers use the haulage network as a low-cost form of transport and small secondary income, with the minimum wage rates the job attracts paid only while they are en-route. At their destination, they hop out and use most of what they have earned to journey the last mile via autonomous taxi.
Technology didn’t destroy all of the driving jobs. But it diminished a huge proportion of them.