Now more than ever, as the trucking industry has made clear its prominent role in the American economy, truckers need to be in the loop regarding everything being done to help them out during a disruption event, explained Truck Specialized Parking Services trucking expert Scott Grenerth. Truck Specialized Parking Services offers drivers easily accessible truck parking availability information.
Grenerth spoke at a Federal Highway Administration-hosted webinar last week as part of the Talking Freight seminar series by FHWA, and has worked as both a company driver and owner-operator himself.
The importance of adequately communicating with drivers on the road was made especially clear when these truckers stepped up to the front lines in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Grenerth explained. When travel centers, rest stops, and stores themselves all shut down during stay-at-home orders, many truck drivers couldn’t find a place to park, rest, or even find food.
FHWA announced at the start of the pandemic that it would allow for food trucks to come to federally-funded interstate highway rest areas in an effort to help boost snack and meal options for truck drivers during that time. Many states quickly took advantage of this flexibility; however, a majority of over-the-road truck drivers, when surveyed, said that they had been unaware about the presence of these food trucks soon enough for them to take the necessary exit, even though FHWA had issued a notice to state departments of transportation about this new allowance.
Because of issues like this–which directly affect a truck driver’s wellbeing while on the road–Grenerth suggested that the FHWA find ways of improving methods of alerting drivers to what is available to them during challenging circumstances. This raised awareness could come through methods like signage hauled behind trucks on the freeway or overhead variable message signs, he said.
Additionally, not only would this kind of improved communication help drivers become quickly alerted to the resources and conveniences readily available, but they could also help alert truck drivers to the help they can get during severe flooding, wildfires, hurricanes, or other emergencies.
“We definitely just need to make sure that whatever comes up, like this kind of response, truckers know where they can get the help that they’re going to be seeking,” said Grenerth. “We just need to make sure they know about that.”
Many trucking companies have used the difficulties brought about the pandemic as motivation to boost in-company communication capabilities, with many fleets initiating regular town hall meetings amongst employees to keep everyone up-to-date on changes and updates within the industry and the company itself, others beginning to send out informative newsletters with helpful resources for employees, and others implementing mobile app platforms that allow drivers and fleet managers to stay regularly connected while truckers are on the road.
Additionally, many changes brought to the trucking industry during the pandemic era have lasted to today, according to Michigan State University associate professor of supply chain management, Jason Miller. These aspects include effects on truck stops, travel centers, and retail truck tonnage–which has reached higher levels this year in regards to freight movement than in 2018 or 2019.
“It ties into the challenges of [upsetting] the apple cart, and then we start to have a different mixture of freight taking place,” said Miller. “We have a mixture that is [made of] less manufacturing and substantially more retail. That creates a lot of disruptions.”
The pandemic has made addressing these disruptions vitally important, as the industry has already lost far too many truck drivers–74,000 more workers were employed in some capacity by the trucking industry in 2019 than in 2020.
“We’ve had demand rebound to near-record levels, but our number of long-distance drivers is down substantially from where we were even three years ago during that same time period of essentially record-high demand,” said Miller.
In fact, the local general freight sector has grown by 16,500 workers in May of 2021 as compared to May of 2018, although the number of folks working in the long-distance truckload sector and the long-distance less-than-truckload sector has dropped significantly.