TORONTO, Ont. – Truckers are being widely hailed as heroes in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, for keeping store shelves stocked and goods moving, but lack of access to food and facilities is making their jobs even more challenging.
Many drivers report being denied access to restrooms at restaurants as they close sit-in dining areas, as well as shipper and receiver facilities.
“Truck stops are not open. Their washrooms are locked,” Kavita Kohli, safety manager at Polar Express told Today’s Trucking. “Receiver companies don’t even let the drivers in their building.”
Guy Broderick, corporate communications manager with Apps Express, said such policies are putting drivers’ health at risk.
“Why is the industry that is driving the supply chain consistently being refused to use washrooms to wash their hands at customer sites?” he asked. “I have been told by a large group of our own drivers, as well as other drivers across Ontario through social media that they are told they cannot use a washroom to wash their hands. We have all heard Health Canada and the World Health Organization’s comments. The best way to fight this virus is to wash your hands. We have been given letters by customers who have adopted the rule of not letting drivers into their building for the fear of spreading this disease, which I can understand, but why not provide drivers proper facilities to wash their hands without access to the building?”
“To try to find a washroom nowadays? Just not happening.”Driver Susan Kupschus
“To try to find a washroom nowadays? Just not happening,” driver Susan Kupschus told Today’s Trucking. “I have had only one delivery spot that actually put out a portable washroom for truck drivers. Most other pickups or deliveries won’t even allow us into the building anymore.”
Kupschus is a regional driver in Southern Ontario. She’s encouraged by commitments from the province to keep OnRoute washrooms open on 400-series highways, but says “in town, I cannot find a washroom.”
It’s an issue the U.S.-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has taken to U.S. President Donald Trump. In a letter to Trump, OOIDA said restricting truckers from using restrooms is “unconscionable, and those enforcing the policy lack public decency. The federal government must work with the logistics community to ensure truckers have access to restrooms.”
Some drivers are also being shunned when handling documents.
“Drivers bring in the paperwork from other customers and we are scared to touch it with bare hands,” said Kohli. “We don’t know what and who is carrying that virus.”
But Scott Tilley, president of Tandet Group, said these fears are overblown, and technology can be used to minimize driver interactions with shippers and receivers. Tandet suggests drivers prepare and carry their own food to minimize interactions with others, and embrace “no-sign” document transfer technologies.
“Many drivers load at the shipper without getting out of their truck, with the Bill of Lading transferred through the window at a distance,” Tilley noted. “Drivers pull up to the dock at the receiver and deliver without getting out of the truck, using a POD process that is ‘no-sign.’ In this scenario, a regional haul truck driver crossing the border would interact with two people that day – the border control officers at the booths entering the U.S. and Canada, all schooled in minimum interaction and low-flow paperwork, with gloves.”
Domestic drivers, Tilley noted, can go all day without physical interaction with others when using such protocols.
“Drivers have the tools and processes to be safe,” he noted. “They know the safe practices and protocols and they are minimally exposed. Longhaul drivers have one of the safest front-line (non-work-at-home) work environments of all the businesses that have been deemed essential in North America.”
Access to food
Getting food while on the road is also proving to be difficult for some longhaul drivers. In many parts of North America, dine-in options have been eliminated, and walk-up traffic is typically not served at drive-thru windows due to safety concerns.
Pictures of transport drivers attempting to drive their rigs through drive-thrus have popped up on social media. Some restaurants, such as McDonald’s, are accommodating truck drivers through special measures, which earned the fast food chain praise from U.S. VP Mike Pence. At some McDonald’s locations, truckers can place orders using the app and have it delivered curbside. But healthy food options are becoming more difficult to find on the road.
“Food has changed,” said Jamie Hagen, owner of Hell Bent Xpress out of Aberdeen, S.D., who frequently delivers into Canada. “Most fast food facilities are open through drive-thru. I’m missing having real food at a dinner.”
In a letter to the National Restaurant Association, OOIDA wrote: “While we realize the restaurant industry is dealing with significant issues of its own, to the extent you can work with your members to accommodate the needs of our nation’s truck drivers, we would be extremely grateful. Using a drive-thru in a commercial motor vehicle is impossible, most restaurants have closed their inside operations, and individuals are generally prohibited from walking through a drive-thru line. As a result, truck drivers are struggling to find food.”
To exacerbate the situation, an owner-operator in one of the hardest hit segments of the trucking industry says brokers are gouging rates. A car hauler, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution from brokers, told Today’s Trucking that since auto plants have closed, shippers have been offering load for as little as 55 cents per mile for full, nine-car loads. That compares to roughly $3 to $4 per mile before the Covid-19 pandemic. The driver noted it takes several hours to load and unload these shipments.
The trucker sent us screen caps of postings on the Central Dispatch load board, used by most car haulers to find loads.
“What’s going on in the industry right now is, these brokers are starting to push the envelope,” he said, adding his equipment is specialized and can’t be converted to haul other commodities. Central Dispatch didn’t respond to an inquiry about rate trends.
TransCore Link Logistics’ Loadlink marketing manager Karen Campbell-Jones told Today’s Trucking there have been no indications of price gouging on its load board.
“When we looked at our truck-to-load ratio product for the last couple of weeks (which tracks loads and capacity on Loadlink), there were no significant shifts in the demand/capacity trend. As well, our truckload spot rate tool (which holds aggregated rates paid to carriers by shippers and brokers), also did not show any significant shifts in average spot rates in the lanes that our carrier members run,” explained Campbell-Jones.
“The lack of dramatic changes in both of these indices/tools would imply that there is stability for the wide range of commodities that carriers haul and lanes that they run, however this is based on overall volumes.”
This one in a series of reports on the experiences of truck drivers and other members of the trucking industry amid the fight against Covid-19
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