COVID-19 also affects the smallest areas of our lives. It is therefore not surprising that large industries like the trucking and transportation sectors have been rocked by the pandemic. In recent months, trucking has been confronted with the volatile economic behavior of companies, consumers and their suppliers, which inevitably seeped into transport fleets around the world. The real impact on commercial traffic has been felt since the pandemic began. However, the severity of this impact shows up between borders and even at the local level. This article provides a general overview of the changes that have occurred in the light of the recent health crisis and the trucking industry’s continued efforts to respond appropriately.
Let’s start with a discussion of doing business in general, which provides a better insight into what is happening in the industry from the start. According to Geotab, Inc., a company that specializes in providing web-based analytics to help transportation companies better manage their fleets, commercial transportation activity declined significantly in the United States and from March 16 to May 8, 2020 in Canada compared to the base data only one month before the start of February. It was found that Canada carries out 79% of normal commercial transportation activities while the United States carries out an average of 83% of normal commercial transportation activities. This reduction in activity is more felt in federal regions such as New York and New Jersey, with an operating level of 66% of normal activity.
The same analysis reflects similar results in Latin America and Europe. Fleet activity varies from country to country, however, and from the data provided, it is unclear whether the results are 100% due to a disruption to COVID-19 or other indirect causes such as border closures. While the data reflects a significant decline in North America in recent months, business appears to be gradually recovering as other industries prepare to resume business and resume their “new normal” operations.
Recent freight concerns
A discussion of some of the key issues affecting freight transport will help understand why supply chains have seen such a significant slowdown in recent months. Logistics and industrial experts have provided insight into the impact of this pandemic on truck drivers, stating that while drivers are exempted from the non-essential business closings and stay-at-home orders carried out by most states, there is disruption that were not possible even during preparation. There have been reports of long waiting times at pick-up and delivery points due to a lack of on-site staff, which has disrupted and clogged many reception schedules and caused slower-than-usual turnaround times for cargo.
There have been reports of drivers refusing to book cargo collections in badly affected areas, which has led to spot market and ad hoc rate increases. Even popular trucking routes have become a challenge for drivers due to the closure of restaurants and toilets. Individual states have even gone so far as to close frequently used rest areas that are of vital importance to the trucking industry. Additionally, carriers with less than truckload (LTL) will be turned away from the destination terminals due to reported limited space, resulting in additional charges for freight charges. Many of these carriers had to return their cargo less than a day after a cargo could not be delivered due to a closed facility.
In addition to these driving experiences and unique challenges, the transportation landscape continues to change every day. Tray Anderson, Executive Managing Director of Logistics at Cushman Wakefield, stated in an article on the impact of COVID-19 that “refrigerated vehicle prices can continue to rise for urgent orders for essential goods, while e-commerce companies rely on spot market providers. to quickly replenish their distribution centers to meet increased online shopping orders. ”
With these growing demands, drivers and their companies are feeling the pressure to turn away from regular operations and quickly adapt to new business practices. Nick Beck, owner of Beck Trucking, explains: “Haulage companies are already doing their best to meet the increased demand for products across the country. … Some customers have already asked [drivers] in order to support the supply of food chains ”, haulage companies and their drivers have to reach new destinations and learn quickly. These new realities may include the relaxed treatment of operating hours, which will be discussed in more detail below.
Emergency instructions and measures
As with any change, most freight forwarders continue to have difficulty navigating the evolving landscape. In a May 13, 2020 article by Verizon Connect titled “Covid-19: Impact on Freight Forwarding, Business, and Commerce,” the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) expanded its Emergency Statement, Hours of Operation (HOS) and other regulatory requirements Facilitation for drivers of commercial vehicles carrying emergency supplies until June 14th in response to the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak.
According to the FMCSA, none of the HOS regulations apply “while the driver is busy providing direct assistance as part of the emergency relief”. This means drivers don’t have to take 30 minute breaks and no regular 34 hour restart is required. “To ensure safety, once the delivery is complete, the driver must be off duty for at least 10 hours if transporting property and 8 hours if transporting passengers.” In a recent webinar hosted by Heavy Duty Trucking, attendees discussed what Fleets need to know about the COVID-19 crisis and delved deeper into the FMCSA’s exemptions for both covered and uncovered items. The exceptions are fairly broad considering the large areas covered in Parts 390-399 of the FMCSA rules.
These exceptions include driver medical qualifications, vehicle maintenance, etc. However, no exceptions are made for drug / alcohol testing, CDL requirements, or hazardous material regulations. Some of the assistance provided by the FMCSA’s exemptions is expected to become final rules after the agency released a notice of the proposed rule-making last August, and it is expected to be published in the federal register in early June. Some of the areas covered by the final regulation include short haul operations, adverse driving conditions, driver breaks and an exception for sleeping places. Any final ruling will take effect within 120 days of posting on the Federal Register, according to Dan Horvath, vice president of safety policy for the American Trucking Association.
The FMCSA has implemented these exemptions in an emergency to promote continuity in the trucking industry. These rules and guidelines provide truck operators and their companies with additional relief to maneuver accordingly, regardless of the problems that frequently arise during this time, such as license extensions or registration requirements. Despite these regulations, there is growing concern that most government departments will be closed or fewer staff available as new drivers are qualified to obtain their CDL. This prevents drivers from completing their training and slows down third-place operations and fourth-quarter financial demands. Ultimately, shipping companies are trapped and are feeling the COVID-19 effects intensely.
Since the haulage companies try to maintain the level of operation, it was another focus for many haulage companies to keep the drivers healthy during this time. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult given continued demand and the need to distribute supplies as quickly as possible. Many drivers have raised concerns about the emotional stress affecting their families, their finances and their own wellbeing. Some drivers have even been instructed by their companies to self-quarantine in their tractors after experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms that put drivers and their managers in uncharted territory.
In addition, companies have started to use resources such as internal driver hotlines with health and wellness teams that help drivers with health concerns, inform them of important safety measures and share ways to communicate with customers and truck stops in advance, to ensure this, drivers have secure parking spaces and carry out their duties. These efforts have provided essential resources and information to drivers on a daily basis while remaining safe and productive.
As the transportation industry continues to feel the downward pressure of the health crisis, there are glimmers of hope showing that a recovery is in sight and that the trucking industry will be an integral part of our economic recovery. As companies create new and innovative ways to keep their businesses going and keep employees healthy, trucking operations will continue to deliver cargo and businesses small and large will provide the supplies they need to stay afloat while we are waiting for normal business continuity to be restored.