If We Stop, The World Stops…

The trucking industry

Unsung, everyday heroes

In late March, the Governor of the State of Michigan issued execute order 2020-21 a stay at home directive intended to ensure social distancing, slow the advancing spread of the Corona virus and promote public health and safety.  Prior to the order, restaurants and bars were limited to carry-out only,  schools and non-essential business were closed to the public as were Michigan’s 14 welcome centers heavily utilized by both trucks and travelers along interstate freeway and state highway system.  Pennsylvania had already closed all of their rest stops statewide – a decision that would be relaxed to some measure after some uproar.   All of this had me thinking about another group of unsung, everyday heroes who in doing their job and then some are helping all of us in our fight to survive the pandemic and return to some form of normalcy.

For some time, my family has had professional connection to the transportation industry, in particular the trucking industry.  Naturally, I wanted to learn more about the impact of the pandemic on the industry and those individuals that are part of it.  As I scanned through the news feeds, I noticed eye catching headlines such as “Truckers brave coronavirus outbreak to deliver goods: ‘If we stop, the world stops’” and less striking headlines like “Truckers feel, see impact of coronavirus outbreak”.  I took the time to digest several articles that explored the challenges and pains facings the trucking industry and its future due to the pandemic and other factors like the ELD (Electronic Logging Devices) mandate.

A little personal history

As a youngster, I once asked my dad what he did to make money.  He told me that he owned a trucking company and his company hauled materials, things like sand and aggregate, to the people that needed them to build freeways, homes, cars, and many other things.  “Wow”, I thought, “How many trucks?”, so I asked him.  He said he had 3 tractors to haul the “Gravel” trains and 2 dump trucks.  “Wow”, I thought again, “2 dump trucks… 3 tractors and trains…wait what?”  My dad said he owned a trucking company, so I pressed him on the tractor and train thing.  Tractor is the official term for the motorized part of an articulated truck I was told as he showed me some official paperwork and a train is when you combine a tractor with a set of trailers.  Unfortunately, his answer was met with blind eyes and deaf ears.  I already knew that tractors were driven by farmers and were slow dirty machines in spite of the big wheels and as far as the train thing, whatever.   In spite of that confusion, I did begin to understand one thing, what my dad did seemed pretty darn important.

 An interesting statistic

Some might say the trucking industry, drivers and their freight, those goods and materials transported in bulk, form the life blood that circulates through the American economy more so than rail, air, water or pipeline.  If the thought of blood makes you queasy, look at it this way, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics in 2018 trucks were responsible for 67.4% percent of domestic freight in terms of weight (11 billion tons). That is more than 2 times the weight transported by than rail, water, air and pipeline combined.  In terms of economic value, trucks were responsible for 72.7.4% percent of domestic shipment value (10.78 trillion dollars) which is nearly 5 times more than the value transported by rail, water, air and pipeline combined.  These numbers add up to rank trucking as the top freight transportation mode in the US in terms of both weight and value and a ranking that is projected to maintain in the years to come.

Not really statistics but cool trivia none-the-less

Did you know that Sean Connery and Elvis Presley drove trucks for a living before they were famous?  Are you kidding me!  James Bond and The King?  That should have been a movie, but hey we had “Smokey and the Bandit” one, two and three, so I am fine.

On another note, did you ever wonder where Elvis’ signature side burns came from? Me neither, but some believe it was inspired by his admiration of truck driver fashion in his youthful days.

A borrowed headline

Now I know that the headline that of this article, taken in part from the USA Today article may come off as bit sensational or extreme, but I do think it underscores the importance of the individuals who are the subject of this article.  In spite of the changes brought forth by the pandemic, many of basic necessities and comforts, except toilet paper for some reason, are still available to family in large part due to their efforts.  Hoarding issues aside, some industry insiders estimated before the pandemic that grocery stores would run out of food in 3 days if long haul truckers changed their motto from “Keep on Truckin’!” to “Take this Job and Shove it!”  While 90% of the United States is under some form of lockdown to stay healthy and safe, these folks keep rolling along and due to increased demand for essential goods and materials they are working harder than ever to deliver the goods.

As I suggested earlier, the drivers’ efforts do not come without pain or emotional cost.  In addition to the normal stress that over 3 million registered professional drivers in the US experienced on a daily basis before the pandemic, new challenges have come to the forefront. The most obvious is the risk of being exposed to the virus just by doing their job, but there are other concerns that deserve mention.  Of those registered professionals, nearly 2 million are long haul truck drivers who cannot live at or work from the comforts of home and have no assurances of what will happen to them if they get sick while on the road or how they will get home if they do.  For those that do stay healthy, their new reality means longer hours behind the wheel; cold meals, junk food or meals heated over a warming plate in the cab of their tractor; and over-crowded rest area and truck stops with limited services or amenities and nowhere to park or sleep except along the side of the road or other areas where personal safety and that of their critical shipments is of immediate concern. Lastly, for some there is a sense of feeling quarantined in their own trucks in spite of their health.

Breaker, Breaker 19… Thanks… 10-4 Good Buddy

Like many others in our society who are going the extra mile during this pandemic, from what I understand, drivers are not just driving for themselves but all of us and with a new sense of purpose.  As a gesture of good will or gratitude, we should not just think about their effort, but actually thank them.  Perhaps, the most impactful and sincerest way we can go about this is by being patient and courteous when sharing the road.  Then, if you get the chance, feel free to greet a driver with an acknowledgement or a positive gesture of appreciation and respect, just like you would the many other essential workers.  We already know that this group includes medical and health care workers, first responders and military personnel, grocery and pharmacy store workers, social workers, service and utility workers and, believe it or not, our elected officials.  It’s time we add truckers to that list.

Maximizing the impact of these Supply Chain heroes

Since our founding in 1995, Profit Point has developed and implemented methods, strategies and tools to help companies and people with procurement, planning, scheduling, manufacture, inventory management, distribution and delivery of goods and service for a variety of industries. This is especially critical today where delivery of essential life-saving and life-sustaining goods is paramount and the pressures and constraints resulting from a recognizable tightening of our global supply chain are forcing us all to look at the world with eyes fixed towards efficiencies and improvements.  

If you could use help with authoring a success story in the area of transportation and logistics management in order to optimize and manage the flow of inventory from origin to destination both from a cost and service perspective, check us out at profitpt.com.  Learn about our team of Supply Chain experts and the expert driven services that we provide or gain insight on Supply Chain events, strategies, tools, solutions and people that shape our industries, businesses and daily lives when you read through our white papers, case studies, articles, publications and more.

About Mark Gracey

Mark has 20 years of experience as both an Analyst and Developer of enterprise-wide and tactical solutions to help manage, optimize and improve operations in the Manufacturing Supply Chain.

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