Truckers restock stores faster as coronavirus keeps traffic lights and truck stop showers in short supply

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Trucking companies are making heroic efforts to keep store shelves stocked with toilets paper, food and cleaning supplies that have run out amid panic buying spurred by the mishandled coronavirus pandemic, a task made easier by lighter-than-usual road traffic. On the other hand, the availability of showers and disinfectant products for drivers at truck stops is a problem.

“We’re clearly seeing that transit time is starting to improve, and drivers are reporting that and it’s encouraging,” said Derek Leathers, president and CEO of Omaha-based trucking company Werner Enterprises. . Forbes. “We really need people to stay off the roads if we want the supply chain to continue to run more efficiently and get more product to stores faster.”

Werner, with approximately 9,500 drivers transporting goods across the United States, Canada and Mexico, is rushing to meet the growing demand for “paper products, sanitizing products, hand sanitizers and household items from base,” Leathers says. Shipments of products such as clothing have fallen, “but food and beverages are booming. All in all, we’re in more demand right now and we’re just trying to get out of this and get things to market as quickly and safely as possible.

Trucking giant JB Hunt Transport said Monday it is offering a one-time $500 bonus to its drivers and staff in the field and at customer facilities in recognition of their hard work at this time. “All of our employees have gone above and beyond the call to action during this crisis,” said John Roberts, president and CEO of JB Hunt. “They have kept pace with the changing supply chain needs of our customers in the face of great uncertainty.”

According to Werner’s Leathers, demand for shipments is especially high along the US West Coast, as well as New York and the Northeast. These are also the areas of the country with the highest coronavirus infection rates.

Lighter traffic is especially noticeable in cities that are synonymous with congestion, according to Seattle-based Convoy, a digital freight service that helps shippers move thousands of truckloads every day. “Compared to the same time last year, we are seeing average local delivery speeds during morning and afternoon rush hours in Seattle and Los Angeles increase by 5 to 10 miles per hour,” says Aaron Terrazas, director of economic research at Convoy. “For local transport, surface streets often account for a large portion of the driver’s total time. With fewer commuters, truckers increasingly have the road to themselves, even in the densest urban areas. »

However, there are exceptions. Florida’s highways, which haven’t imposed statewide stay-at-home rules, seemed packed over the weekend, though things were different state by state. another, according to Doug Oberlin, a veteran long-haul driver based in Marysville, Ohio.

“I was south of Orlando and picked up a load, coming off I-75 from Florida, and boy, was it busy,” Oberlin said, during a layover in the Indiana. “I cut into Alabama and drove up I-65 yesterday, it was pretty light.”

Shippers’ ability to get goods to stores and supermarkets faster is a rare bright spot as the impact of the coronavirus and measures to curb its spread hammer the U.S. economy and financial markets. In the short term, there is little indication that circumstances will improve, as health experts such as Dr. Antoine Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warns that the United States has yet to feel the full impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Truckers may be saving time, but they are also facing reduced services at vital road stops, including the elimination of indoor dining at restaurants and cafes and the temporary closure of fitness facilities and other important conveniences for workers who spend hours behind the wheel. . Truck stop showers remain available, but more rigorous cleaning efforts mean there are fewer of them at any given time.

“Drivers still need to park, they need to take breaks, they need access to food,” Leathers says. “It sometimes becomes more disruptive, as national or local authorities adopt well-intentioned regulations. We support what they are doing, but there are unintended consequences disrupting the flow of goods.

Some services have been reduced although TravelCenters of America, the largest publicly traded U.S. truck stop operator, says all of its TA Truck Service centers remain open and continue to offer 24-hour roadside assistance to drivers. “Our showers are open and you can still book showers” using a company-branded app, TA said by email. And they are cleaned regularly with the “highest quality chemicals”.

Down the road, Oberlin is also facing a shortage of some of the same products consumers are scrambling to buy. “I can’t find Clorox wipes or hand sanitizer at any truck stop I’ve been to. Everyone is sold.

The current health crisis is also creating a new respect for the essential role truckers play.

“One of our drivers told me a story about a delivery to a Southeast store this week,” Leathers said. “When he arrived, the analogy he used was ‘It was like a pilot landing perfectly on a plane, and everyone was cheering for the pilot.’ Well, nobody does this for truckers, but he got a round of applause when he stopped by the store, he said it was really special.

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