The trucking industry is an inalienable part of the entire supply chain, and supply chains are being disrupted all over the world due to the coronavirus pandemic.
At the time of writing this, there are over 8 million active coronavirus cases in the world and more than 400,000 people have died.
In the US alone, the active cases are about to reach 2 million with 110,000+ fatalities. 30,000+ people have succumbed to the virus in New York itself.
The commercial transportation activity in the US is operating at an average of 83% of its normal business with the state of New York operating at 66% of its normal activity (source).
An altered world in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak
Although economies are opening up again and the supply chains are showing signs of recovery, businesses have been hit and it has impacted the trucking industry from many angles.
The magazine for truck owners, Overdrive did a quick study among owner-operators and businesses running small fleets of trucks and it was found that
- 26% of respondents have totally shut down.
- 52% are running far less than usual.
- The cash flow has skewed.
- 73% are having problems with freight pricing.
In many parts of the country, the movements of trucks came to a near standstill with the transportation of essential goods being the exception.
The trucking industry is completely dependent upon other businesses
One of the biggest problems faced by the trucking industry is that it does not exist in isolation. It is a B2B business.
Hence, it heavily depends on other businesses. If other businesses are not doing well, the trucking industry has to bear the consequence in a big way.
The boom in online shopping due to the coronavirus outbreak is a silver lining
The logistics business has received a big boost due to the boom in online shopping, but of late, even online retailers have been hit by the coronavirus as it is becoming increasingly difficult to deliver goods.
Most of the people are reluctant to place orders, fearing that deliveries could bring the virus at their doorsteps.
Priorities are being reshuffled
Disruptions have also occurred in the form of changing priorities. Fleet managers, dispatchers and drivers are having to put in longer hours to oversee nationwide emergency delivery needs.
On the other hand, trucking needs for restaurant supply and equipment for live events have completely ceased for the time being.
Hence, there has also been an increased demand across the country.
Trucking and logistics keep medical supplies, grocery, sanitation supplies and cleaning equipment moving during the critical times.
Since most of the essential services depend on the trucking business, it is particularly important that the drivers, assistants and other employees are protected against the infection. Many opportunities are surfacing in the face of the challenges.
Minimization of human-to-human contact
How is the coronavirus pandemic reshaping the trucking industry?
How are big and small trucking businesses coping with the aftermath and what changes are they making to remain operational?
The no-human interaction model is becoming the norm. Many trucking and transportation businesses are adopting the “work from home” model.
The staff that can work from home or that can work remotely, is not coming to the office.
This is a big adjustment change but this new trend not only keeps the workforce safe, but it also reassures their customers.
For example, before the pandemic, only 1% of the US Xpress staff worked from home, and now more than 95% are working from home.
Of course, truck drivers cannot work from home. They need to be on the roads constantly.
How can they keep themselves and the people they come in contact with safe?
Here also, many companies are using technology to make as little contact as possible with the consignments being delivered, right from loading and unloading the trucks to handling them during the transit.
Online trackers are also used to keep the drivers updated about which regions and areas are facing lockdowns and which places are easing their lockdowns.
A big shift towards digitization
Another area where the trucking industry is moving towards digitization is filling up forms, papers, receipts and invoices. Though the world has been moving towards digitization for many years, the corona pandemic has been an inflexion point.
The trucking companies are convincing their customers not to require a signature, which is the norm in this industry. Most of the paperwork is being done through mobile phones and computers.
Driver bill of ladings, onboarding processes and many other functions are being fast digitised in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
A good thing about these changes is that many trucking company owners say that even when the pandemic has subsided and things are back to normal, the good changes that they have adopted will be continued.
Changing work culture and operational modalities
Company cultures are also going through a transformation across the spectrum. Whenever face-to-face meetings are required, they are done outside, maintaining the social distancing norms.
Even chairs from the common driver sitting rooms have been removed so that the drivers feel less encouraged about sitting together and chatting.
Visits to the locker room are being awarded. The driver’s straightaway heads towards the talk when they arrive from home.
Some positive changes are behavioural in the wake of the crisis. Greater importance is being attached to the human angle of the transportation industry rather than the trucks and the consignments.
Others in the supply chain are focusing on how the truck drivers are treated. These days there is normally less detention time and better treatment for drivers at the customer facilities.
Greater job security in the offing?
Another positive aspect that has been revealed about the trucking industry is that there is greater job security.
With unemployment spreading everywhere, it is a good time for the trucking industry to promote this profession as a viable and sustainable means to job security.
Many are speculating that online shopping will experience unprecedented growth because fewer people are now eager to visit bigger malls and physical retail stores.
The goods purchased through online retailers will have to be delivered. This is already turning into a big opportunity for the trucking industry as online retailers are experiencing an increasing number of sales from their portals.
Trucking jobs mobile apps like TruckBook are further bridging the gap between the job opportunities and the job seekers, especially among individual truck owners who are constantly seeking new jobs and often have to spend lots of time going through the job boards.
This app carries thousands of listings. In the times of the coronavirus outbreak when every business that can, is going digital, carriers and freight owners are posting their job listings on a daily basis and the individual truck owners can go through and apply for.
As the curve is gradually moving towards flattening in many parts of the country, many in the trucking industry hope that the positive changes that have been introduced are not just going to stick, but evolve further.