What Was the Impact of COVID-19 on the American Trucking Industry?
Updated: Jan 24, 2022
In December 2021, the American Trucking Associations published its Annual Trucking Trends report, revealing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the US trucking industry. In 2020, a challenging year by anyone’s standards, American truckers shifted 10.23 billion tons of freight and generated more than $732 billion in revenue, according to the report.
Bob Costello is the American Trucking Association’s Chief Economist. Introducing the report on the associations’ website, he explained that the organization recognized the significant impact of the pandemic on the industry.
Nevertheless, this year’s Trucking Trends report revealed that despite all of those challenges, the trucking industry remained America’s lifeline, delivering life-sustaining and life-saving essentials across the nation at a time of unprecedented need. Here’s what you need to know:
The 2021 Report's Findings
America’s trucking industry employed more than 7.65 million people, of which 3.36 million were truck drivers.
The industry received than 80 percent of the national freight bill, a figure identical to the previous year, producing more than $732 billion in revenue.
US truckers transported 10.23 billion tons of freight, representing a decrease from the 11.84 billion tons of freight transported in 2019.
Trucks were responsible for transporting more than 83 percent of the value of surface trade between the United States and Mexico, and over 70 percent of cross-border trade with Canada, moving more $695 billion in goods across those borders in total.
Women accounted for 7.8 percent of US truckers, representing an all-time high.
More than 91 percent of trucking businesses operate six trucks or less, and over 97 percent operate less than 20, suggesting that trucking continues to be a small business industry.
Early Pandemic Trucking Challenges
COVID-19 and the nation’s response to the emergency created numerous day-to-day challenges for virtually every industry, and trucking was no exception. States implemented stay-at-home orders that forced many workers to put down their tools.
However, transportation, field service, energy and utility workers, and many other fleet-based organizations were deemed essential services. This enabled them to continue operations, albeit in a very different landscape.
Speaking with the press in late 2020, Beck Trucking owner Nick Beck pointed out that trucking companies were already going above and beyond in terms of trying to meet increased demand across the country. He explained that his company had been asked to pull resources from its usual activities to deal with an influx of grocery store loads. It shifted 600 loads in one week alone, scrambling to meet critical need and keep the grocery shelves stocked.
Ongoing Industry Disruptions
Even after implementation of the national vaccination program, with the threat from COVID-19 starting to recede, the transportation industry continues to face considerable challenges. It is grappling with supply chain disruption as well as nationwide emergency delivery needs as drivers strive to maintain their health on the road.
Speaking in a live interview outside the White House on October 13, 2021, Pete Buttigieg, the US Secretary of Transportation, suggested that trucking industry disruptions are likely to last however long the pandemic persists, with COVID-19 continuing to spark shocks to the system. He predicted that supply chain issues could last well into 2022, as companies continue to struggle to return to normal operations.
In October 2021, President Biden called upon the private sector to assist in easing supply chain blockages that threatened to disrupt the US holiday season. His appeal came in the wake of the Biden Administration announcing plans to broaden COVID-19 vaccination requirements in the private sector in September 2021.
The new legislation requires companies that employ more than 100 workers to ensure that either employees are vaccinated, or test negative for COVID-19 in weekly testing. This move is expected to affect around 80 million Americans.
Challenges to the Vaccine Mandate
The move proved controversial. In November 2021, the American Trucking Associations led a legal challenge to the vaccine mandate. It joined forces with the Mississippi Trucking Association, the Texas Trucking Association, and the Louisiana Motor Truck Association in initiating legal proceedings against the Biden Administration over the mandate.
In an announcement on the American Trucking Associations’ website, CEO and President Chris Spear explained that while the associations and its member companies supported efforts encouraging Americans to get vaccinated, including its drivers, who had been on the frontline throughout the pandemic, he believed that in forcing workers to choose between their job and making their own medical choices, the administration had overstepped.
Irrespective of the outcome of the American Trucking Association’s legal challenge, it seems clear that the US trucking industry will face considerable challenges for some time to come. As pointed out by Deloitte in its report on the impact of COVID-19 on the transportation sector, the pandemic pre-empted a shift from moving citizens to maintaining core transport systems operated by a skeletal workforce to keep freight and essential workers moving.
As pandemic lockdown measures are lifted and operations return to normal, the transportation industry faces numerous challenges that seem unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.