Truckers answer the bell to keep the economy moving during pandemic | 2020-09-04

Motor companies have been whipped by the pandemic. However, through perseverance, courage and skill, they managed to keep the trucks running and protect the employees. You have made vital deliveries to support millions of families back home and to support an economy struggling to find a new place.

Dave Bates, Senior Vice President of Operations at Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL) in Thomasville, North Carolina, has dealt with hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, strikes, recessions, and numerous other disruptions during his 33 years in the trucking industry . “This is by far the most challenging environment we’ve ever had to operate in,” he notes.

Less-than-Truckload (LTL) airline saw an immediate 20% drop in shipments when the pandemic broke out in late March and raged across the country in April. In May it fell by almost 17%, he notes. Some businesses fell off a cliff, while others recovered relatively quickly. “We deal intensively with food and medical products as part of our normality [mix]. It was worth it for us, ”recalls Bates. “It was the [small business] Mom and pop cargo that we saw dry out because it couldn’t be opened. “

With the outbreak of the pandemic and its initial impact on volume, the ODFL, which handles an average of around 120,000 LTL shipments a day, immediately made the decision to properly size its workforce. The company took approximately 15% of its employees on three-phase 90-day leave in April – and retained their health benefits. “We knew it at the beginning of the pandemic [the impact on the business] wouldn’t take long, ”notes Bates. “We wanted her back and we knew it [conditions would change and] We’d need them again someday. “

Overall, service levels remained constant across the ODFL network of 238 service centers, which Bates says is evidence of ODFL’s union-free workforce. “None of this would be possible if our employees didn’t do what is necessary. I couldn’t be prouder than our team and what they did to get us through, “he says, adding,” I hope we never have to go through this again. “


At Estes Express Lines in Richmond, Virginia, a targeted relocation a few years ago to increase presence in emerging e-commerce, omnichannel and last-mile segments helped mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on business, says Pat Martin, vice president of corporate sales and strategic planning.

“Deliver [e-commerce purchases] last mile home and help businesses [and fulfillment centers] Replenishment is what is driving the market right now, ”he says. Away consumers have doubled their projects and “ordered everything from basketball hoops to hot tubs, pool and garden supplies to patio furniture – anything the home can fix.”

Traditional business expectations and operational assumptions have been turned upside down. “Parts of the economy have never been better and other parts have never been worse,” notes Martin. “The market is just crazy right now. It just depends on what your business mix is ​​like. “While Estes saw a decline in business in April and May, June and July rebounded to the point that the company began to aggressively manage capacity. “We’re not bringing a lot of new business to market right now. [we’re focused on] We take care of our existing business book, ”he says.


For Memphis, Tennessee’s FedEx Freight, figuring out who was closed and who could still take deliveries was an immediate challenge at the start of the pandemic, recalls Lance Moll, senior vice president of operations. “We called 24,000 customers before attempting the shipment to confirm whether they were open or not,” he says.

It was a critical time when important cargo still had to be delivered to where it was needed most. The company responded with an “all hands on deck” approach, proactively reaching out to shippers to confirm operating hours and set specific pick-up and drop-off times. The drivers were equipped with protective equipment. Cleaning and disinfection routines have been implemented for offices and trucks. Protocols have been adopted to limit close contact between drivers and shippers. The signature requirements have been suspended to ensure adequate social distancing.

At the same time, skyrocketing e-commerce volumes accelerated the use of the company’s FedEx Freight Direct service, which enables home deliveries of heavy, bulky items such as fitness equipment, patio furniture and sewing closets. Service, which had grown at a decent pace before the pandemic, really picked up pace as home-bound consumers started ordering more oversized items from online retailers. “The pandemic continues to produce unprecedented volumes and we have managed our line haul model to meet current demand,” Moll notes.

Agility towards the foreground

With market disruptions and a dim view of the future, fleets place great value on flexibility and agility. One example is CPC Logistics in St. Louis, which provides CDL certified drivers (Commercial Driver’s License) for private fleets and other special needs. It is one “leg” of a three-legged truck stool: CPC manages all aspects of driver recruitment and provision, the manufacturing or retail business (such as a pharmacy, an automotive aftermarket or a consumer goods company) handles the network and route planning. and a third party provides equipment and maintenance for the vehicles.

This “unbundled, dedicated” model dealt with the pandemic so “we could move drivers from one area or customer to another that saw more demand and needed more capacity,” noted Dan Most, vice president of safety and operations at CPC Logistics. “This met the customer’s volume needs while ensuring that the driver had the opportunity to work and continue to earn a paycheck.” CPC Logistics has around 3,000 full-time drivers for its customers.


On the truckload side, hauliers report a similar story. The cargo disappeared in late March and early April and then began a slow but determined recovery. “People are realigned. There’s hardly any inventory, ”said Greg Orr, executive vice president of US trucking at Canada-based trucking conglomerate TFI International. “The supply chains are catching up a lot right now.”

Orr’s management portfolio includes the activities of TFI’s truck loading subsidiaries CFI and Transport America. He observed that right now 65% of their customers are seeing solid, stable volume. The other 35% are trying to get out now [the pandemic]To rebuild inventory and regain customer trust, ”he says.

His biggest concern was with the drivers and how the loss of personal interaction from Covid-19-related distancing protocols was affecting them. “They are vital to the country,” Orr emphasizes. And while they are professionals and, in his view, are clearly committed to what they do, it has never been more important to protect them and be attuned to their needs and concerns. Last week I was out in the yard [at CFI’s Joplin, Missouri, office] and no less than half a dozen drivers came up to me and wanted to talk. You are on the road for seven to ten days [at a time]and they miss this personal connection and see a friendly face. “

Ultimately, “the pandemic has focused on what our individual actions mean not only for our own safety but also for the safety of others around us,” said Darren Hawkins, President and Chief Executive Officer of LTL Carrier YRC Worldwide. “We have entered an era in which there is more personal responsibility than ever [for safety] is in front and in the middle. “

Hawkins’ conclusion: “The collective force of a society that is more aware of its surroundings, more willing to act safely, and committed to acting in the best and surest interests of all is the promise of a better future for all of us.”

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