COVID-19 disruptions have polarized the trucking industry as a whole. The pressure on organizations during this pandemic has shifted from moving citizens to keeping a core transportation system operational with a skeleton workforce to ensure freight and key essential workers can continue to move. A secondary effect of this shift is the sudden change in sources of revenue for transportation operators, with many experiencing an unexpected shortfall in their finances. Organizations will need to plan ahead to ensure that the transportation network will be ready for a return to normal operations when the coronavirus pandemic lockdown measures are lifted.
Impact on the trucking industry
Although trucking was identified as an essential service and exempt from many restrictions, drivers who transported non-essential goods, or who supplied non-essential businesses, were suddenly parked with no end date in sight. Those fortunate enough to keep working faced even more difficult working conditions: limited washrooms and food stations, and additional quarantine measures on their return home.
For business owners whose source of revenue depends on drivers delivering goods, a decrease in the number of drivers returning to had a noticeable impact. This return exasperated the existing driver shortage issue.
Healthcare facilities needed equipment to fight back against the virus and keep patients safe so there was an increase in demand for truckers to deliver groceries and medical supplies. For truckers who haul those goods, it means they are working longer hours with bigger loads to keep the world operational.
Data from Freight Waves, a publication for truck drivers, found truckload volume was up 25.9% in March. While demand is up, there may not be enough drivers to deliver the goods.
As for the precautions in developed countries, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gave drivers specific guidance that had to deliver goods. It was recommended drivers stay in their vehicles as much as possible when the supplies are being loaded onto the truck and unloaded at the destination.
Potential long-term COVID-19 impact on the transportation industry
- Longer-term investment programs may need to be replanned and reprioritized in light of decreased revenue.
- Organizations will need to plan for the availability of key personnel to ensure that staff with critical skills and training is available throughout the coronavirus pandemic to keep networks operational.
- Commuting and traveling patterns may not recover to their pre–COVID-19 state once lockdowns are lifted.
Are driverless trucks the solution?
A significant disruptor in the trucking industry has been the development and implementation of driverless trucks. Despite up-front costs, using autonomous vehicles helps increase delivery times, and can solve the ongoing labour challenges. Driverless trucks have been successful in more stable climates, so countries need to evaluate if they are ready.
In conclusion, there’s no doubt that the world would not get through this pandemic without truck drivers. They are the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic that are holding the supply chain together. Without their willingness to work around the clock to deliver the supplies needed to restock shelves, the country would grind to a halt.