Pandemic in the rearview mirror: Looking down trucking industry’s road post COVID-19

Hopefully, everyone in the trucking industry will soon be putting the COVID-19 panic in the rear view mirror. Just before Memorial Day, more and more states were implementing phased re-openings and allowing citizens access to their constitutionally guaranteed rights to assemble and move freely.

Essential to remember the sacrifice

As those less essential flocked to the lake, the shore or wherever people go to celebrate Memorial Day, hopefully some of America’s most essential, our truck drivers, will be able to finally take a break as well. Let us all pause to remember those who’ve sacrificed everything to secure the freedoms we all hold so essential.

Next normal coming

The pandemic has proven to be a belligerent, monster disruptor of consumer and industrial supply chains. Trucking’s role keeping goods, materials and the economy rolling was nothing short of phenomenal and will certainly play a role in re-establishing “normal” supply lines depleted by hoarding housewives and profiteering resellers.

However, the damage is still being assessed and the carnage it’s causing in the industry is not likely to abate soon. According to Ron Sterk in Food Business News, for all modes, logistics have been at center of disruption caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) 2020.

Terk explains sharply reduced tonnage and redirection of shipping routes were just two of the most prominent ways transportation was disrupted while moving essential food and other items during the pandemic’s peak.

Supply chain gears began to grind as lockdowns took hold in April. Ocean freight and rail shipments tumbled during the pandemic notes Terk, while truck tonnage initially surged and then plummeted.

Food for thought from the food industry

Food Business News reports the effect of COVID-19 on grain movement remains mixed. Terk found that low fuel demand shut ethanol plants down and reduced corn deliveries to those plants. Even though most of that was regional, the trucks and trains needed to ship ethanol declined dramatically as well.

Other grain shipping activity, Terk reports, to mills and processors for example, surged as “near panic buying of flour and other staples skyrocketed early in the shelter-at-home period only to drop to more normal levels, or even lower, once that buying subsided.”

Terk explains that because of its high visibility to consumers, much of the attention was on the trucking industry, “because that’s what could be redirected most easily during the pandemic, and because it is trucks that are responsible for the ‘last mile,’ delivering items to retail or directly to those using them, whether that be food or personal protective equipment for first responders, frontline health care staff or meat and food plant workers.”

That’s a mouthful but easily understandable. He also makes a superb point, noting that even though truckers were deemed essential by the US Department of Homeland Security, and saw regulatory relief, DOT drivers STILL encountered barriers like closed rest areas and truck stops early in the shelter-at-home period. Fortunately, those circumstances improved by the end of April, he notes, as the industry pressed for relief.

Prepare ye the way of response to the next crisis

Are your fleets and operators ready for the next crisis? Supply & Demand Chain Executive’s Marco Encinas thinks you should evaluate preparedness and ready yourself to meet the next crisis to come down the road, viral or otherwise.

With so many depending on trucking and freight transportation, Encinas recommends fleet managers get “extremely organized” to handle current and future industry needs and work diligently to foster closer communications and promote safety with drivers and customers.

Communication is key

The essential connectivity and data of telematics must be leveraged even more. Encinas says that being able to stay in constant communication with drivers—as well as knowing their locations at all times—allows fleet managers to make better more informed decisions for all stakeholders.

Documentation please

While logs are no longer mandatory to be kept Encinas finds continuing to make notes and annotate the daily log (and noting non-compliance or similar excursions) is a good practice. Encinas also points out to facilitate the planning of loads and tasks It’s a good idea to integrate a route planner or an add-on the service if it isn’t already included by the fleet owner’s telematics provider.

Track truck maintenance closer

Drivers are putting in the extra miles and so are their rigs. Encinas warns that just because there is a global crisis it’s no time to stop regular truck maintenance, in fact it should be stepped up and tracked more closely.

Driver safety

Encinas, like most all in the industry notes driver safety should be the top priority and a focus operationally on all fronts. This is not only best practice to sustain business but overall reduce risk and support business preparedness for the next crisis.

All of the above please

Although the above list isn’t comprehensive, following those guidelines will help you be prepared for the next bad thing and support lower operating costs. For example if you present solid safety and maintenance practice data to your insurance agent come premium renegotiating time, he may have what he needs to help you obtain cheaper trucking insurance rates.