On May 1st, a convoy of more than 70 trucks gathered on Constitution Ave. in our nation’s capital to protest the low freight rates that are crippling an industry already damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rates have fallen to unsustainable lows with truck load rates down from an average of $1.79 per mile in Feb. 2020, to an expected $1.51 in May. The protesters aren’t asking for changes in the rates but rather, more transparency when it comes to freight brokers. Drivers have the same overhead they had before the virus hit―truck payments, insurance premiums, fuel costs, repair bills, etc. It is all still there. Despite the lowered rates, many freight brokers are charging the same commission as before so the protesters are asking for more government regulation. The drivers are asking that Congress require brokers to provide transparent transaction records upon service completion and eliminate clauses that keep drivers from accessing them.
There have been some ease of restrictions for drivers who are hauling freight that’s considered essential, the 14-hour limit has been waived so the restriction doesn’t prevent necessities from being delivered quickly, but it’s not enough. With the closure of bars, restaurants, and many stores, freight isn’t moving like it was before the pandemic so there are fewer available loads and many carriers and drivers, especially smaller operations, are really struggling. Drivers who can find loads are barely breaking even. With the major hit to the number of loads, drivers are finding it more difficult to fill deadhead miles and are returning with empty trailers. For others, it’s more profitable to park their trucks.
Of course, those who do get loads are opening themselves up to getting the virus. With so many drivers prone to obesity and who smoke, they may be at greater risk for developing severe symptoms or even dying from the disease. Many owner/operators have chosen to stay home over contracting the virus driving through “hot spots” in states where the virus is more prevalent.
As we gain control over the virus and the country begins to open up again, there may be lasting damage to the trucking industry. Even when demand grows in this country, much of the freight comes from overseas, leaving us dependent on the re-opening of other countries so recovery may be slow getting off the ground. When it does, there’s a real fear that after businesses begin to reopen and the demand for drivers climbs that many drivers will simply not return.
The protesters in Washington, D.C. are looking for fairness, that if load rates are less during this time, freight broker rates will be less too. They aren’t looking for Congress to step in and do something about the declining rates because, even with all the punches this virus has inflicted on the trucking industry, there’s still the belief that with recovery of the American people, recovery in the economy, recovery of our nation, will come the recovery of the trucking industry.
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