We’re in unchartered waters, and it’s become evident the global COVID-19 pandemic will challenge this current generation in ways history has never seen. As of March 22, one in four Americans have been ordered to stay home. Congress is nearing what could be the largest economic bailout in history. Across the globe, cases of coronavirus continue to rise, as does its tragic death toll.
But America and her allies aren’t resistant to unprecedented challenges. We don’t buckle under adversity. Just as past generations have risen to the great tests of their time, so will we now and in the days, weeks and months ahead. Success will demand the totality of our resources. The cost of victory will be paid in sacrifice. But our resilience is unmatched. We will overpower this virus and any other obstacle that dare stand in our way.
It’s no mere coincidence those values—resourcefulness, sacrifice, resilience—are deeply rooted in the trucking industry. They’re embedded in heart of the American trucker. As Americans across the country are witnessing, truckers have an enormous role in this national fight against COVID-19. It’s imperative they are empowered to keep rolling, so they can deliver those loads critically needed to get us all through.
In responding to this crisis, the immediate priority of our advocacy efforts at ATA has been to ensure just that—that trucks keep rolling. As complicated orders fly by the hour from governments at all levels, and confusion understandably ensues, we are working around the clock to ensure America’s supply lines are not impeded or broken. A growing number of state and local governments are issuing decrees, including curfews, stay-at-home mandates and restrictions on restaurants and other service providers.
These are important policies that, when measured and executed correctly, will help slow the spread of COVID-19. However, having never faced a public crisis of this nature and magnitude before, some jurisdictions are forced to learn in real-time what exactly constitutes essential infrastructure in today’s world.
Last week in Pennsylvania, the Department of Transportation and Turnpike Commission closed the state’s 35 rest stops—including to truck and commercial parking. Driving truck isn’t an easy job, and truckers have basic needs just like the rest of us. They need places to rest, places to eat and places to use the bathroom. This is about far more than comfort and convenience. These needs are fundamental to driver health and highway safety and must be met in order for goods to keep moving and reaching store shelves and hospital bays.
Working in tandem with our federation partners at the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, we moved quickly to resolve this issue. We were soon on the phone with leaders at both the Federal Highway Administration and PennDOT, and within 48 hours, the department announced the reopening of 13 critically-located rest stops for truck parking. The turnpike commission soon followed, reopening 17 service plazas by week’s end, with indoor bathrooms open 24 hours.
In Nebraska and North Dakota, a combination of related and unrelated factors—including personnel shortages, severe winter weather and vandalism—forced the states to close their rest stop facilities. We reached out to their transportation officials to discuss the importance of these facilities and why interstate commerce depends on them. In both cases, they were swiftly reopened. We appreciate officials in Pennsylvania, Nebraska and North Dakota taking the necessary steps to reopen this critical infrastructure, and we thank those working daily to keep them running.
A look ahead:
As Churchill wisely noted, it’s difficult to look further than we can see, which is especially true in the fog of an unprecedented crisis like this. But as we look over the hood today, we see several prevalent issues for trucking emerging from COVID-19, which ATA is now laser-focused on:
- We continue to magnify the term “essential workforce,” as defined in government-speak, to ensure it includes the scores of workers who support truck drivers in their job. That means dispatchers, technicians and—very importantly—truckstops, rest areas and the service personnel needed to keep them running.
- Licensing for drivers with expiring CDLs, and the handling of medical cards and related testing, must soon be addressed as state driver’s license agencies across the country temporarily close. One solution we’ll press is for deadlines to be extended and CMV regulators to acknowledge drivers may not be able to access a drug test while the resources of labs and technicians are consumed by COVID-19 response efforts.
The availability of food, water, fuel, medicine and other essential goods depends on drivers in cabs, and with DMVs most closed to new drivers, we cannot let this exacerbate a shortage of available truck drivers.
- Congress is undertaking bold legislative measures to bring relief to individuals, families, businesses and industries impacted by COVID-19. At its core, trucking is an industry of small businesses. Ninety percent of U.S. motor carriers have fewer than six trucks. It’s vitally important to the health of America’s supply lines that small- and midsize carriers have the resources they need to withstand this storm.
Truckers aren’t asking for handouts. But we are asking that fleets have the necessary liquidity to meet payroll and capital expenses. ATA’s discussions with President Trump and Congressional leaders continue, and we are encouraged by developments that “Phase Three” legislation being negotiated will include vital loan guarantees for small- and midsize businesses.
I’ll conclude by sharing some words of inspiration from a member of ours. Massachusetts-based Boyle Transportation hauls military supplies and medicine. In a recent video message to his fleet discussing the challenges of COVID-19, co-president Andrew Boyle said:
“We deliver critical military materiel and life-saving medicine — life-saving medicine that millions of Americans rely on. What a great mission. We were built for this. So be safe and be smart, but be proud. Let’s roll.”
Andrew’s words not only ring true for the talented drivers and dedicated employees across the Boyle Transportation fleet. They embody the spirit of an entire industry and the millions of heroic Americans within it working to move our country forward during these trying times.
Truckers don’t have the option to telecommute, but they will do their part to move America through this crisis. We were built for this. Let’s keep rolling.