Being on the road always had its challenges, but COVID-19 added new problems to the daily life of many truck drivers.
During times of shutdowns and bulk shopping, truckers stayed on the road to deliver necessary loads. Delivering medical supplies and ensuring that store shelves remained stocked turned truckers into some of the frontline responders to the pandemic.
But instead of being rewarded for their service, truck drivers now face unprecedented challenges.
After an initial surge in consumer demand in the early days of the pandemic, freight volumes weakened dramatically. Stay-at-home orders and temporary closure of retailers, manufacturers and restaurants slowed production and demand for goods.
As of now, the extension of the unsteady economy seems to be affecting trucker companies in various ways. While some experienced a drop in revenue, others noticed compressed margins and sporadic volumes in otherwise stable sectors.
The financial strain forced some companies to temporarily furlough employees or make significant labor reductions in line with revenue losses.
Smaller companies and contractors deal with similar issues. The changing economy made it hard for many to make ends meet.
Lampasas resident Judi Jones operates a small trucking business with her husband Gary and is worried about the future of their operations.
“At the beginning, the rates became horrible due to the bigger companies being able to underbid the owner-operators and smaller companies,” she said. “This put a major strain on income, as loads became hard to get.”
The Joneses had trouble finding loads that would be profitable for them.
“Some brokers were not paying drivers the full amount for the load,” she said. “For example, a broker might be paid $1,200 for a load but only pay the driver $600 … Some owner-operators even protested this in Houston by shutting down Highway 620.”
On an upside, truckers don’t have to face challenges of finding open truck stops or roadside restaurants anymore.
“That problem has subsided some,” Jones said. “Not nearly as bad as it was before.”
With the Federal Emergency Management Administration distributing face masks and truck stops selling face coverings and hand sanitizer, it has also become more accessible for truckers to receive personal protective equipment.
The Centers for Disease Control issued particular guidelines for long-haul truckers, recommending wearing cloth face coverings in public when social distancing is complicated and regularly wiping down high-touch areas of their trucks, such as door handles.
Other safety measures are in place once drivers deliver their loads.
“(At some locations), the driver would have to have his temp taken before being able to enter the premises,” Jones said.
While Jones is thankful that her husband hasn’t caught the virus yet, she continues to be anxious about his wellbeing and their financial future.
“We are still trying to recover from all this as our income has drastically reduced,” she said. “With the rising amount of cases, we are fearful that another shutdown could cause our doors to be closed for good.”