We have been moving slowly and nervously through this COVID-19 crisis now for more than 3 months. We hear the word unprecedented over and over because we have no real experience to look back on, especially involving trucking. Many trucking companies have adapted and learned how to be flexible, creative, prepared and determined. But the pandemic has definitely weeded out weak areas in the industry that we will have to change to survive, especially since COVID does not seem to be going away any time soon.
One weakness in supply chains was spotlighted early in the pandemic, as supplies and parts from overseas were unavailable as a result of those countries efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak within their own borders. Some of us are just starting to see the toilet paper back on the shelves to site an example. Online orders may not be taking as long to deliver as they did in April and May. Supply chains have begun using more and more technology to help with tracking and moving loads, creating more efficiency. While at the same time technology such as paperless bills of lading, online/virtual training have kept safety measures in place for drivers that may continue for good reason. Also an increase in cleaning facilities (never a bad thing) has swept across the nation as one of the top 5 steps in protecting employees. Supplies like masks, gloves and hand sanitizers were amongst those steps as well and have become more common in every business environment from offices to trucks themselves.
In mid-March to about mid-May of this year, there was a significant downfall in trucking activity in both the US and Canada but since then it appears to be gradually bouncing back as “new normal” operations are being planned and prepared by companies. Some of the slowdown has been an upset in schedules with the truck drivers. Disruptions of long lines at pickup and drop-off points have also been a source of delays in turnaround times for freight.
A survey taken over the course of about 3 weeks in May 2020 revealed what many of us would likely guess. Less than 10% of respondents confirmed an increase in business, and approximately the same percentage confirmed no change. Meanwhile, almost 80% of those responding confirmed a drop in business in April. The smaller operations feeling the hardest hit, with 23% of companies with 4 or less trucks reporting business had completely disappeared in April. About 22% of respondents had workforce members furloughed and/or laid off as a result of the pandemic. However, just over half of the owner-operator fleets were reporting an almost entire elimination of their workforce. Many owner-operators had to park their trucks because business dried up or rates weren’t worth taking the truck on the road, with the added risk factor.
Slightly more than a quarter of the fleets surveyed said they had up to 24% of their workforce working from home. 58% said they had no one working from home during the pandemic. This correlated directly with the size of the fleet. The biggest fleets with more than 100 trucks would be seeing almost 50% of the workforce working remotely. Since the truck is probably the workplace for the much smaller fleets, their workforce from home numbers would be much less.
The constant demand and need for supplies to be distributed has made it quite challenging for trucking companies to maintain operations flowing and keeping drivers healthy during this pandemic. But the sparks of hope are in sight and trucking is a fundamental piece to our economic puzzle. Companies are strategizing new ways of keeping freight moving while providing healthy and safe surroundings for employees.