Since the start of the pandemic over a year ago, the trucking industry and the sectors working alongside it have undergone many changes–and have had to overcome countless challenges. Here’s a look at some of the most highly-affected areas across the nation’s supply chain
For State Transportation Departments, the response to the pandemic varied widely across the country. Technology, in particular, was a huge factor in each DOT’s actions, according to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials president, Victoria Sheehan.
Sheehan also currently serves as commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, which has continued having employees work remotely. However, when employees must work in-person, such as at construction sites, they have begun utilizing contactless ticketing and delivery, and have also made an effort to travel in separate vehicles to work sites.
Additionally, Sheehan said the DOT began distributing personal protective equipment on public transportation and modifying buses and trains for social distancing between passengers.
“Not only are our workers essential, but we’re transporting other essential workers to and from their employment,” she said.
Now, state transportation department employees have been working to set up call centers for vaccination appointments and vaccination sites. Although these kinds of tasks are new, most state officials were well-prepared for an emergency, including that of the 2020 pandemic.
“Our association and our state DOTs and all the partners we work with had to be very nimble in reacting to all of these emerging issues,” said Sheehan.
Another area that saw major changes–road safety.
“It was definitely a strange year for inspectors,” said roadside inspection program director at the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, Kerri Wirachowsky. “In the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of agencies just stopped doing inspections completely, only stopping vehicles if they saw an imminent issue.”
Only 2.7 million inspections were conducted in 2020, as compared to 3.5 million in 2019. Even the number of roadside inspections throughout CVSA’s International Roadcheck dropped by 25% last year. Many jurisdictions removed inspectors from the road to assign them other responsibilities instead.
“Some jurisdictions redeployed people to work on things related to COVID,” Wirachowsky noted. “So, the actual number of people doing inspections went down temporarily through 2020. It varied from state to state.”
Additionally, some state troopers who also worked as inspectors were sent to help the violence taking place during the social unrest in Wisconsin and Oregon, she added.
The accuracy of CVSA’s numbers during this time may be slightly less accurate than previous years, as well.
“As far as my data presentations go, I’m not using 2020 data,” said Wirachowsky. “For me, violations data each year needs to be consistent. But when you have an emergency declaration from the federal government for the entire year almost, when some violations aren’t cited and trucks can run over their hours, that skews all the violation data.”
On a high note, though, another affected area of the industry was that of truck driver advocacy.
Truckers–as they worked around the clock every day of the pandemic to make sure hospitals and clinics had the medical resources they needed and that grocery stores were fully stocked with food and household goods–quickly became the heroes of 2020. Many members of the public showed their thanks with outward displays of gratitude and gifts for the nation’s truckers as the pandemic wore on.
“Last March, we didn’t know what we didn’t know, but it became clear just what an important role we were going to play in getting the country back on its feet,” said Chris Spear, President of American Trucking Associations. “Truck drivers became soldiers on the front lines of our response to the pandemic: delivering food, medicine, [personal protective equipment], and other essentials that made our long quarantines possible. And now, as the tide is turning, delivering the literal shots in the arm we need to finish the fight.”
This advocacy made it possible for the industry to get more done in its favor than ever before, Spear added.
“We were able to secure real wins for our industry: access to rest stops, distributing PPE and sanitizer all in the name of keeping our drivers safe and healthy,” Spear said. “We worked with lawmakers to ensure that economic stimulus reached carriers and drivers so they could keep the economy moving. We pivoted and adapted our series of meetings and events to keep our members safe, but connected.”