“What made this year unique was the conditions our industry was forced to work in,” said Chris Spear, President of American Trucking Associations. “Consumers have witnessed now, firsthand, what we do all the time. Unfortunately, it takes a worldwide pandemic for that to come to the surface, but the recognition is so well-earned and deserved.”
Throughout 2020, the response and action made by the trucking industry in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a revamped perception of the public in regards to truckers and their efforts. This perception is expected to carry on in the coming years, which, many industry experts believe, will likely boost trucking’s infrastructure policy efforts–and their support–on Capitol Hill.
“2020 was a very defining year for trucking,” Spear added.
There have been, of course, a myriad of obstacles truckers have had to defy throughout 2020, including adapting to restrictions made in order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, like social distancing and more virtual communication, as well as rest break, meal, and shower location limitations or even closures.
“Year-to-year, we’re accustomed to challenges, but I think the environment we had to perform in was so different–it was something we had to adjust to,” Spear continued. “There’s been a mental toll that this has had on everyone, particularly for drivers being out on the road, away from their families. They can’t telecommute. This is their office. This is where they do their jobs.”
Fortunately, many people across the nation made their appreciation for truck drivers heard, especially during events like Truck Driver Appreciation Week which gained traction across social media and saw companies, groups, and individuals offering food, drinks, discounts, and other goodies to truckers in an effort to show gratitude for their boosted efforts throughout the pandemic and all that was asked of them.
As the country saw truckers stepping up to help deliver the exponentially higher numbers of home deliveries, shipments to medical centers and hospitals, and stock needed in grocery stores and restaurants, their appreciation kept truckers pushing forward.
“In every community across the country, there have been hot meals being made for our drivers, police escorting drivers to where they can get a shower, kids handing out cookies to drivers at truck stops,” said Spear. “You just can’t make it up. It’s such a heartwarming story.”
Spear believes that this recognition, albeit more than ever before, will have lasting effects through this year and beyond.
“It is so different than any other year,” he said. “I believe we will be able to ride this crest into 2021 and it will pay forward. We need to ensure that the public recognizes the importance of our industry and what we do”
Now, the trucking industry’s vital responsibilities include ensuring the shipments of new COVID-19 vaccines to citizens throughout the United States.
“A number of our members, those particularly that are equipped with air logistics capabilities–UPS and FedEx are perhaps two of the most notable in terms of providing support globally–this is what they do, they do it day in and day out,” said Spear.
He also noted that truckers, and other professionals in the transportation sector, are doing their best to bring this new resource to where it’s needed as fast as they can.
“It’s not just the ground; it’s also air. Here we are again, not only making sure we survived the pandemic, but as we transition, we’re that bridge to recovery that stems from the vaccine. Our industry will play a key role so Americans have it as quickly as possible.”
Now, as more and more bills are brought to Washington and other state capitals in attempts to grow, expand, and improve the trucking industry, Spear believes that the industry’s now-glowing reputation will help these efforts become successful more easily.
“Our message is not aligned solely with one political party over another,” Spear explained. “Our message, our narrative, our story speaks to Americans. Our story should resonate with either party, no matter who is in charge. They should have an incentive to work with us. When you are 7.6 million strong, one in 16 jobs in the U.S., where the top job in 29 states is a truck driver, and you’re moving 71% of the economy–you need us. Now, we’re transitioning to distribute the vaccine–they need us.”
ATA is hopeful that President Biden’s administration will push forward major infrastructure legislation as the pandemic eases, and Spear notes that his team has been working with Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill as often as possible.
“We will–in April, May, June–switch gears to an infrastructure bill,” said Spear. “We’ve already been working with the Biden transition team and House Democratic leaders. I have a good understanding of what that bill will look like and the provisions we need to be aggressive to get a fully-funded bill done. It will be good for the economy, [and will help with] the job [losses] we have experienced in 2020, putting people back to work, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than with an infrastructure bill.”
All in all, ATA is looking forward to action in the new year.
“I am very optimistic about where we are heading,” Spear said.