May 2020

Pandemic paining society and trucking, as drivers stand up for their liberty and livelihoods

With a tremendous stake in keeping America’s economy moving during the pandemic, truckers are beginning to seriously chafe at joining the chorus to open the country back up and protest low freight rates.

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Truckers take to the barricades

Website thetrucker.com reported that stuff started to get real on April 20 when some 75 drivers staged a protest stopping and slowing traffic in Houston’s East Loop Freeway. Several sources reported drivers were cited for obstruction of traffic, with one charged more seriously with inciting a riot.

April 24, more than 100 drivers participated in a “slow roll” along several Los Angeles and San Bernardino County freeways, and a similar protest took place in Phoenix. According to thetrucker.com, the merde hit the fan when several of these peaceful, non-violent protesters were cited for obstruction of traffic and inciting a riot.

However, as we pass through everyone’s historically favorite month for fomenting rebellion, I hope the nation’s politicians remember the fly-over proletariat across the country are beginning to get very anxious, fearful of losing livelihoods and their professional lives as truckers.

There is recent evidence the crisis is taking an emotional toll on people, especially truckers—In fact, both directions of Interstate 94 (the primary East -West artery passing through Chicago) were shut down for more than three hours April 29th after a woman with a gun barricaded herself in a semi-truck. Obviously in emotional distress, this poor woman had come to the end of her rope and may have been contemplating her end. Fortunately, this stand-off ended peaceably.

Mayday for May Day

More protests came Friday, May 1, in the Los Angeles area, Chicago, Washington DC and other places across the nation as disgruntled drivers called “mayday” on the traditional May Day according to one industry source. FreightWaves reported a convoy of around 70 small-business truckers convoyed to the nation’s capital around 2:30 am May 1, to protest low freight rates amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The protesters said their plans included remaining parked along Constitution Avenue until May 4 in hopes of attracting the attention of President Donald Trump about the plight of small-business truckers. FreightWaves reported Scott Jordan, owner of Powerhouse Transportation in Missouri, had a letter he had written and hoped to deliver to Trump in person.

“As trucking continues to deteriorate to the point of starvation, we essential small-business truckers have decided it is time to make trucking great again,” Jordan told FreightWaves. “We are encouraging anyone to join us in an effort to save small-business truckers from ruination during this critical time in our nation.”

Not hot dogs by any measure

The local ABC news affiliate reported a large group of truckers demonstrated in Chicago on Friday as part of the ‘Mayday” movement. Reports said the demonstration consisted of a long line of Bobtails participating in a ‘slow roll’ through downtown expressways.

Drivers participating in the Mayday convoy, said ABC, decked their trucks out with signs and slogans reading “Make Trucking Great Again” and “We Are Over Regulated.”

Feeling the chronic pain of a debilitating COVID-19 economy

Truckers are coping, but many especially small independents are feeling the chronic pain of the COVID-19 economy. Unfortunately, notes thetrucker.com’s Cliff Abbott, without financial medicine and some surgery, is not likely to get better any time soon.

Rates that had begun to rise in March plummeted in April and are still falling. According to DAT Trendlines statistics April 13-19, rates for van freight averaged 15 cents per mile less than the March average. The April average is $1.72 per mile.

Flatbed rates fared worse, said Abbott, dropping 19 cents to a flat $2. Refrigerated trucks dropped by 20 cents per mile to an average of $1.99 per mile. Rates, said Abbott, for all three modes were still going south at the end of April.

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Beating will continue until morale and rates improve

Abbott blames over capacity but argues if you throw in crashing oil prices (which traded at less than zero at one point) and the shutdown of oil fields, the result is a large number of trucks looking for other freight to haul.

He notes that when you also shut down shipping from China, and another group of truckers is looking for new freight. To all of this, add the closing of businesses all over the U.S. and the loss of freight those businesses would normally generate.

Abbott finds large carriers are scrambling to keep trucks moving and to keep drivers busy so they don’t leave. As a result many carriers are hitting the spot market more than usual. Abbott said It “all adds up to not enough freight to go around.”

It’s a tough situation for all

It’s clear it is a tough situation. The COVID crisis is waning, but the effects overcapacity and economic fallout on independent trucking are compounding. Sure the industry is suffering from the virus, but the co-morbidity of over capacity and low rates are what’s stopping truck drivers and killing their businesses.

For the sake of the nation, its people, the trucking industry and independent trucking it is clearly time to open the country, release the economy and do it right now!

Bob Tales