As coronavirus cases climb in the United States, Americans are waking up and acknowledging that drivers are essential. For those of us in the industry, the extra media attention on trucking and coronavirus reinforces what we already know. Trucking is the backbone of the American economy and a non-negotiable step in the supply chain. Billy-Big-Rig beware, in the midst of all the praise experts like Brain Fielkow president of JetCo Delivery, warn of a bumpy road ahead.
An outpouring of support on social media has made this industry chuck-full of super-charged superheroes overnight. Although, trucking and coronavirus restrictions and precautions with have no-doubt made an already challenging job, much more difficult.
An Unpredictable Future Now Unfolding
“Coronavirus will likely divide trucking industry’s strong and weak players,” said Fieklow in an interview with Fox Business. “In trucking, you have the haves and the have-nots, and [unfortunately] I think coronavirus is going to divide the trucking industry even more.” When it comes to trucking and coronavirus it might not be the disease that slows industry down, but likely travel restrictions and layoffs. The halo of media attention surrounding trucking and coronavirus has made the driver a public servant, much like nurses. Accolades aside, however, “this pandemic may break weak players.”
According to Forbes, KeepTrucking a multi-million-dollar startup “unicorn” is hitting a nosedive after launching its electronic logging devises ahead of new regulations in 2017. CEO Shoaib Makani sent an email to employees announcing layoffs, “of 18% of its global workforces – effective immediately.” Unfortunately, the relationship between coronavirus and trucking is affecting many owner-operations as well. In case you missed it, the majority of American trucking companies are not large organizations but “about 97% of carriers in the U.S. operate 20 or fewer trucks.” In the case of family-owned NWD located in Massachusetts, “business is down almost 60 percent.” In some states, businesses that order from or receive delivery are under heavy restrictions or are under strict Governor’s orders to close down completely. This shortage in loads is leading to an upturn on layoffs throughout the industry.
Trucking and Coronavirus: Healthcare Hauls are Saving Grace For Some
“If you’re in the right niche however, you might be alright” according to Fielkow. Some companies with hauls involving Clorox, medical supplies and dog food, have their hands full with the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Tim McCormick, President, and CEO of FCC, “I’m sure that there are companies that haul different commodities that may not be seeing the increase in demand, but with our customer base, we’re actually having to turn down freight because we just can’t handle it,” he told the Fremont Tribute.
For those still driving, players big and small are also facing challenges in the most unconventional places. Precautions happen with simple things like paperwork. Truck drivers handle a lot of it and are now being encouraged to rely much more heavily on electronic devices, like load boards. Drivers aren’t leaving their trucks or use a facility’s restroom. Instead, they conduct business from through their cab window. Ingrid Brown told American Trucker as a result of social distancing her paperwork was wet with Lysol.
How Are Trucking Jobs Affected by COVID-19?
Right now, we are seeing certain freight demands increasing and others dropping. Although we’re sure these numbers will fluctuate over the next several months, we are all wondering when – or if – the industry will ever return to normal. Once COVID-19 started spreading in the United States and many places went into a stay-at-home order, people were impulse buying. Truckers could hardly haul fast enough to keep the shelves stocked. Once the panic wore off, it seems that now certain supplies are no longer needed – since everyone bought so much in the beginning – while others are sitting going to waste because people are consuming less due to being at home.
However, in that first month of COVID-19, from February to March, we saw reefer trucking jobs increase by 135% – the biggest job in job demand that we’ve seen so far. Flatbed jobs increased by 57% and dry van increased by 24%. On the other hand, we saw a slight drop in freight such as car haulers, tankers, and intermodal.
Despite the changing job landscape that trucking and coronavirus have created, we’re unfortunately seeing a bunch of trucking companies close up shop amid a tough economy. Just recently, Action Specialized, formerly known as Stone Trucking Company has shuttered its doors, leaving over 50 employees without jobs. Sadly, this has become a frequent occurrence across the nation as more and more trucking companies are forced to close down amid a declining economy.
Rest Stops in Need of Rescue
At truck stops and rest areas, drivers are sharing a similar story. According to the Wall Street Journal, “truck-stop restaurants in some states have shut dining rooms and switched to takeout service to comply with health orders aimed at controlling the spread of the virus. Pennsylvania originally closed its state-run rest stops, cutting back significant parking space along key logistics corridors.” Not to mention, the lack of places to eat! Pennsylvania is now, reopening some facilities on a priority basis, but only due to mass protests on social media! They still have nearly half of all state rest areas closed to prevent the spread of disease and non-essential travel.
So, what else should truckers be on the lookout for? Well, you’ve probably already heard about the possibility for a second wave, which could put truckers and the industry itself in a tough spot once again. While some states are opting to take a slower approach to opening back up, other states have already opened up retail stores and restaurants, which has created a spike in new cases. Some experts believe that a second wave could peak sometime in the early Fall.
Another thing you should keep an eye one is your healthcare. One of the biggest concerns of industry experts is a spike in healthcare costs. Healthcare facilities have actually become hotbeds for COVID-19 cases, which has forced many away from these facilities. Instead, they are opting for telehealth or simply not seeking medical treatment at all. Trucking companies should expect to see a significant impact on healthcare plans. If truckers aren’t actually going to the doctor, or filling subscriptions, this is costing trucking companies thousands of dollars
Don’t Forget to Focus on the Positive | Video!
Although we admit that things are a little uncertain right now, there are still positive things to direct our attention to. Check out this video to hear five positive things that are happening in trucking right now!
Another thing to consider when talking about trucking and coronavirus silver linings is the amount of data that we’ll have on hand. Hindsight is 20/20 and you can rest assured that we’ll be using a ton of this data to plan and prepare for something as disruptive as this in the future. We can also expect some of these guidelines to stay for the foreseeable future. Certain forms that were often signed in-person will be moved online. Even when the virus is not as prevalent, this will help streamline pickups and deliveries and still save time in the long run.
Company culture and the overall opinion and perception of truck drivers should also increase. We’re seeing just how valuable truckers are to keep the world running, and we should ideally see truckers compensated and treated accordingly.
BONUS: Podcast | Coronavirus and Trucking
Want more information about coronavirus and trucking? Check out our latest Big Rig Banter Podcast! What do you think we truckers should be doing during this crisis? Comment below!Find Trucking Jobs Here