Posts

Truck Drivers: Heroes on the Front Lines of the Fight Against COVID-19

Is your local grocery store out of toilet paper? You can blame your neighbors for hoarding it, not the supply chain for running low. Production facilities around America are still churning out product, and America’s truck drivers are driving full-time (and then some) to deliver the essentials from coast to coast … potentially risking their own health and certainly risking their own comfort in the process. 

There are about 3.5 million truck drivers working around the country in 2020, according to the American Trucking Association, and they haul more than two thirds of our total freight tonnage annually (that’s more than 10 billion tons) to stock your shelves and so much more. 

When things are good, most of us don’t really notice all they’re doing behind the scenes to keep our lives operating normally. But in a crisis, like the current COVID-19 pandemic, truckers have joined healthcare professionals as workers on the front line of the battle.

After one of the industry’s worst years on record, truckers are now in high demand to keep up with the rush on supplies. This unprecedented pandemic has thrown a wrench in any trucking outlook for 2020, no matter how expertly-predicted. 

Instead of the tough year we were prepared for, “the trucking industry could be key to keeping the economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says one article

“Without truck drivers, the millions of Americans who have been urged to stay at home would be without food and other essential goods. Healthcare workers would be even lower on personal protection equipment than they already are. Cities around the countries would be without sanitary supplies that allow us the chance to stay healthy,” says Andy Tuley, Vice President of Business Development at Agforce. “They are truly some of the unsung heroes of this crisis.”

At a time when record numbers of Americans are filing for unemployment, truck drivers are experiencing increased demand on their time. In response to COVID-19, the Department of Transportation loosened restrictions on how long drivers can be on the road each day, in order to deliver their shipments more quickly. But what toll does that take on them? 

“Many truckers said they aren’t overly concerned about getting sick, although their jobs – which require touching shipments that could be contaminated, interacting with others, and going out in public at a time when many lawmakers are urging people to stay home – could put them at increased risk of contracting the virus,” according to a USA Today article

Precautions are in place to keep drivers from working while sick, and to keep them from passing sickness onto consumers. Pamela Polyak, president of Polyak Trucking told FOX6 News that her drivers are often being screened upon arrival at their destinations to check for symptoms.

Beyond direct health implications, “there are now fewer options for truckers to eat when they take a break,” says WSPA. “Restaurants have allowed for more drive-thru and delivery options, but there are still limited choices for those driving a semi-truck. Gas stations and grocery stores are convenient, but most shelves are empty.” TravelCenters of America closing their Driver Lounges, meaning fewer places for drivers to stop and rest. 

Still, the drivers keep on truckin’. 

Agforce has long recognized that truck drivers are the behind-the-scenes heroes allowing our business to thrive. As the COVID-19 crisis looms, it becomes more and more apparent that they are the heroes helping all of America to thrive, as well.

Monitoring the Effects of Coronavirus on Transportation and Logistics

To be honest, we’ve been meaning to write and publish this article for more than a week now. But with every passing day, we thought maybe the time wasn’t yet right. There was so much information still flowing in, so much news to analyze. How COVID-19 is affecting individuals, society and the economy changes hour by hour as new cases are confirmed, governments mandate safety measures, scientists work to develop vaccines and people across the world scramble to hoard a years’ supply of toilet paper. 

Within just a few days, the U.S went from business as usual, essentially, to cancelling international corporate conferences, NCAA March Madness, suspending the NBA season, restricting travel from Europe, shutting down college campuses and k-12 school districts. 

Finally we realized … this is just the nature of this global crisis. There will not come a point, until we can look back and agree in hindsight that the worst of COVID-19 is behind us, that anyone – not government officials, not healthcare authorities, and especially not transportation and logistics experts – will really feel like they have a handle on what’s next. It all depends on how society reacts, and how quickly, to this yet-unpredictable virus. 

But for today, we want to give customers and carriers our perspective on how COVID-19 will affect the logistics industry, and how Agforce is here to support you through the uncertainty. 

What we know now, and what we predict next

COVID-19 originated in China, a primary importer to the US, and specifically in Wuhan, a major manufacturing hub. Initially, this outbreak and its subsequent effect on production were expected to significantly affect the volume of product coming into US ports, thus affecting domestic shipping levels, first on the west coast, then on the east coast. 

A synopsis from the Journal of Commerce says “The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is delivering some early year disruption to the container shipping market. Chinese factories may be slowly getting back to work but the damage is already done, and there’s no guarantee factories will be up to full power anytime soon. China travel restrictions are crimping domestic truck delivery and challenging factories’ ability to get crucial components from their suppliers. Unsurprisingly, the backlog of factory orders is frustrating container lines and importers alike.”

The slow-down didn’t happen immediately, however. Due to the fact that most people carry high inventories because of the Chinese New Year, supply was able to match demand. As the lack of imports begin to be felt across the ports, those markets dipped quickly and caused ripple effects in other markets. Then, as those supplies dwindled and imports halted, the industry began to slow. The Wall Street Journal Logistics Reporter Jennifer Smith wrote that the Port of Los Angeles is projecting a 25% decline in container volumes this month. But even in Wuhan, which has been hit hardest by the virus, containment measures are proving to have worked and production is slowly coming back online. This effect will be slow, and it will likely be late April or May before supply chains begin to churn again. But then what? 

Don’t expect rates to go back to where they were at the end of 2019. As China ramps their industrial production back up, the freight will begin to hit our ports in late April or May. We expect rates to be very elastic during this time with pockets of tight capacity arising. Rates could jump quickly depending on demand and timing. Another factor will be how the US handles containment of the virus and the effects on the economy domestically. It is still too early to predict the effects of the virus in the US to our freight markets, but we will continue to monitor it closely and update our customers. If you want to give your Agforce rep a call to talk about strategy for when this happens, we would love to talk to you. 

Customers and carriers, remember we’re here for you 

We’ve always treated our customers and carriers like partners, and that treatment goes double when times are tough. We urge you to wash your hands well and often, follow guidelines from the CDC, and try not to panic. We’re here to help you develop a business strategy that will guide you through the pendulum-like swings of the coming days, weeks and months. 

If you have concerns or want to talk strategy, give us a call at 877.367.2324 or email inquiry@agforcets.com.