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As truck drivers continue hauling essential freight during the coronavirus crisis, the industry is working with governments to dismantle obstacles facing drivers – but there’s still work to be done, experts say.
Brian Fielkow, Fielkow, president of multimillion-dollar trucking and logistics company Jetco Delivery, told FOX Business the public sentiment has shifted favorably in the direction of the trucking industry, which has helped bring attention to some of the biggest challenges.
“The outpouring of public gratitude has been wonderful,” Fielkow said. “But I still think that there are underlying problems.”
Fielkow noted that at the governmental level some states have reversed orders to close truck stops so that drivers can access restrooms. There have also been states that have granted exclusions for commercial truck drivers to certain regulations in an effort to allow them to carry out their jobs more efficiently.
One big remaining problem is detention times. While many loading and shipping facilities are understaffed, detention times can range from as many as three to five hours, Fielkow noted, all the while drivers may not be allowed to use the restrooms or be able to access food and water. Some companies have adjusted their policies to accommodate drivers, but many haven’t.
More broadly, increased detention times slow down the supply chain and are costly for trucking companies.
When it comes to access to food and other basic hygiene staples on the road, Fielkow said there is more to be done at the private sector level – where exclusions can be made for professional drivers.
McDonald’s, for example, recently unveiled a new curbside pickup service for truck drivers who cannot drive their big rigs through the drive-thru.
Meanwhile, some food trucks have begun parking along routes to provide food for drivers.
Drivers need more of this type of "creativity" from the private sector, Fielkow said, in order to make sure their needs are taken care of while everyone practices social distancing and other safe behaviors.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which represents 160,000 small business truckers and professional drivers, highlighted some reforms in a letter to Congress last week that would make it easier for drivers to do their jobs during the current national crisis.
Among them are expanded parking, relief from hours-of-service requirements – which limit how many hours drivers can spend on the road – as well as improved detention times through incentivizing shippers and receivers to load and unload freight more efficiently. In addition, the group called for the potential implementation of hazard pay.
In a separate letter sent to the White House over the weekend, the industry asked for more access to testing – specifically for drivers traveling in and out of coronavirus hotspots.
“Right now professional drivers are busting their butts to care for the nation,” Todd Spencer, president and CEO of OOIDA, said in a statement. “Their hard work and personal sacrifice should not include their health or even their lives if at all possible or preventable. Once word spreads that drivers are testing positive, we could very well see a tremendous reduction in drivers willing to risk everything for the rest of us.”
If there were to be negative repercussions within the industry, Spencer warns that there could be problems with the nation’s supply chain.