As the coronavirus pandemic continues on, it is also completely reshaping the transportation industry. Short-hauls are becoming the norm as freight demand becomes less long-haul-oriented.
The American Transportation Research Institute and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Foundation have collaborated on a survey regarding COVID-19’s impact on the trucking business.
The “Trucking Industry Perspectives: how is the Coronavirus Pandemic Impacting the Industry?” survey received more than 5,000 responses within two weeks.
“The trucking industry has weathered national disasters in the past and is doing so again through the current COVID crisis,” said Rebecca Brewester, ATRI President, when the findings were released last month.
According to the survey, trip lengths have significantly diminished, and respondents also said their number of local trips under 100 miles had risen from 7.8 percent of their total trips pre-pandemic to 18.2 percent during the months of March and April–more than doubling.. Additionally, the number of long-haul trips of over 1,000 miles tropped to 22.7 percent after shelter-in-place was implemented–a decline of 10 percent.
“While the underlying cause cannot be clearly discerned from the survey data, anecdotal evidence is that longhaul movements of international containers decreased at the same time that fleet operations recalibrated to moving essential consumer goods from local and regional warehouses to retail establishments,” the survey explained.
Fleet size also plays a large part in pandemic-related trip length changes, according to the survey.
“While the pandemic decreased trip lengths overall, the impact was most pronounced among smaller fleets. For fleets of fewer than give trucks, 40 percent of respondents reported decreased average trip length,” with almost a quarter of truckers indicating that their average trip lengths had become “much lower.”
97 percent of respondents said they had noticed shorter delays related to traffic congestion. 77 percent of respondents were truckers, and most of them were between the ages of 45 and 64 and had at least 11 years of experience. 13 percent of respondents were identified as personnel and fleet executives specializing in operations or safety. The rest were other industry workers, such as retired drivers, sales managers, and instructors. Responses were collected from across the entire nation and from fleets of all sectors and sizes.
40 percent of respondents operating 5-axle refrigerated trailers said they had experienced a freight volume increase in regards to consumer goods. 5-axle flatbeds, however, saw an opposite effect, saying their freight volumes had become “much lower.” Additionally, with fewer passenger vehicles on the roadways, the amount of petroleum being hauled has also dropped significantly.
“This research puts solid numbers to what we otherwise only suspected,” said OOIDA Foundation research analyst, Andrew King. “While we may be turning the corner on the COVID pandemic, we’re not out of the economic woods yet.”
Nearly half of survey respondents also reported lower overall freight levels, with another 28 percent saying levels have stayed consistent. The remaining 22 percent reported operations being higher than they were before the pandemic, which are likely due to those transporting medical supplies and essential goods.
In terms of consumer demand, 45 percent reported higher numbers during the pandemic, and the 31 percent reporting much lower demand were straight truck operators.
“It’s sort of a leading indicator that what’s going on at home and in the few stores that are open is sort of replicated in the trucking industry,” said Dan Murray, ATRI Senior Vice President. “The one sort of shocker for us was, we were under the impression that all the online shopping that was going on while people were at home would drive straight truck deliveries way up, and yet we saw a decrease in straight truck deliveries.”
Straight truck fleet survey respondents are the providers of services to shut-down businesses during the pandemic, and many straight truck fleets working mostly within the e-commerce sector did not respond to the survey, Murray explained.
In regards to parking and detention time, 44 percent of survey respondents said finding parking for trucks during the pandemic had become harder. 42 percent said parking was the same as it had been, which meant it was still difficult, but not worse than usual. For driver retention, over half of respondents said loading and unloading times had stayed about the same, while 34 percent said the times had increased. Looking to upcoming months, 45 percent of respondents indicated that they think freight volumes will become worse throughout the rest of the pandemic, and 41 percent expect freight volumes to stay as they have been.
“It looks like, essentially, no one is unscathed in the industry at some level in the supply chain by what COVID is doing to folks,” said Murray. “You’re getting hit somewhere along the way by something.”