Although 2020 has come to an end, the trucking industry must still battle pandemic-related obstacles while also overcoming the problems that needed solutions well before COVID-19 was a thought in anyone’s mind.
“What I fear is that, even when you get people inoculated, you’re still going to have the COVID hangover, so to speak,” sad Don Lefeve, President of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association. “You’re going to have not only CDL transactions, but just normal motor vehicle transactions that have largely been put off because of COVID. What’s that going to do to the DMV? In many states, that’s still going to lead to further backlogs.”
The first six months of the new year will likely look similar to 2020’s need for DMV appointments to curb overcrowding, Lefeve explained, also noting that social distancing mandates have left California DMV appointments booked solid from now until April.
Additionally, training schools have also seen restrictions and limitations due to the virus, making entering the industry as a new driver especially tricky. In fact, topping the American Transportation Research Institute’s Top Industry Issues list for the fourth year in a row–the ongoing driver shortage, which isn’t seeing much relief as testing, training, and licensing truck drivers has been more difficult than ever.
Luckily, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has given relief regarding some regulations with extensions specifically for commercial driver license learner permits and tests.
Another difficulty for incoming drivers was made clear by FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, which revealed that around 46,000 truckers received drug violations–most often for marijuana use. Of those 46,000, only 4,400 resumed working after finishing necessary treatment and follow-up testing.
The large number of drug violations is likely due to the legalization of marijuana in most of the country, explained manager of safety and occupational health policy for American Trucking Associations, Abigail Potter.
“I think it’s going to continue to be a challenge for employers,” she said. “With legalization efforts, there could be a movement for more and more employers to review their policies. If there continues to be a driver shortage issue, truckers are going to have to look at that–at least providing drivers a second chance where previously there has been a no-tolerance policy.”
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 is still currently in the U.S. House of Representatives in an effort to bring federal legalization, and the bill was not expected to advance within the Senate until the Senate was flipped to Democrats. Still, it will take some time before we see any change.
ATA will also be working on its fight against trucks-only tolls within Rhode Island, which discriminates against interstate commerce, according to the agency.
This battle is a “must-win case” said to ATA President Chris Spear. Rich Pianka, Deputy General Counsel for ATA, explained that the group has been preparing for a trial over the last several months and expects a trial date to come within the first half of 2021.
“We’re arguing everything in our power to get to trial as quickly as possible to prove our claims and get relief,” said Pianka. “Rhode Island, unsurprisingly, is doing everything it can to slow down the process.”
Although Connecticut also briefly considered a trucks-only tolls proposal only to quickly dismiss it, Darrin Roth, Vice President of Highway Policy for ATA, explained that it could be a recurring issue this year. Additionally, Rhode Island’s circumstance could consequently incite a proposal to increase fuel taxes in Connecticut instead.
For states grappling with revenue shortages from the pandemic, fuel tax boosts could be a viable solution. For instance, New Jersey implemented a gas tax increase of 9.3 cents per gallon to counteract fuel consumption decreases throughout the state. In Missouri, Senate President Dave Schatz filed proposals to bring in a 10-cent increase for motor fuel taxes.
Regardless of COVID-19, many states across the country could see major benefits from fuel tax increases, explained Tax Policy Center senior policy associate, Richard Auxier.
“You can put all of that aside, if you can, and there would still be a need for a lot of states to raise gas taxes because the problem of states having insufficient funds to pay for transportation has been a long-term issue,” he said. “All that other stuff will affect it, but that core problem is unchanged.”