Embattled trucking industry faces more challenges with COVID-19

WHEATLAND – Faith-based and family-owned Lock Trucking, Inc. is part of a business that is fighting for its life. And in the midst of the existing challenges, regulations, employee turnover and increased costs, it may be a strain of bacteria that could bring down an industry.

“In the last year and a half, we’ve seen more regulation with electronic logging devices which have limited productivity and limited flexibility,” said Brian Kelly, Lock Trucking manager. “Electronic logging monitors the time that drivers can be on the road. It doesn’t really take into account their loading time or if the driver is stuck waiting to load or unload, he’s kind of losing all of his productive time.”

That regulation has put a pinch on the market for all trucking companies nationwide, both small and large. The regulation at hand that has really thrown fuel on an industry already on fire is COVID-19.

“With the virus, there is just a lot of uncertainty and I mean, I think that goes with every industry,” said Kelly. “Our drivers are of course out on the road, they’re faced with limited access to the services they need such as the truck stops and rest areas that they depend on to find their meals, to use restrooms. They are beginning to close and limit the access that our drivers have which puts them in a bad situation.”

Lock Trucking provides flatbed freight in all 48 states and has its trucking terminal, storage and maintenance shop all located in Wheatland. All of their drivers are over the road and they usually keep around 20 drivers on the payroll. The fleet consists of 25 trucks.

“Of course, some states are harder hit so they are reacting differently, so closures in California are different from closures in Wyoming,” he said. “Everything from when they need to get permits where the offices are restricted and as we get more into it, we are seeing more closures.”

More drivers are growing leery of getting behind the wheel and heading to the hard-hit areas. Some have families and some already have health issues. Kelly said the fear levels have risen to the point a lot of drivers don’t want to leave home. That level of uncertainty has spread as dangerously as the virus itself, he said.

“Our drivers have been great,” Kelly said. “We also work with other companies to make sure our customer freight is being delivered and so it’s becoming harder to find drivers that are wanting to go and to find customers that are still wanting to move because their office is closed.”

Not all truckers are affected by the fear, and the threat of personal economic loss is sometimes greater than the threat of getting sick.

Things are shutting down, and Kelly pointed out that now that truck stops have closed or their services are cut back severely, truckers face an increasing amount of isolation.

“A lot of our truckers are at truck stops and are grabbing self-serve food that’s heated,” he said. “Now a lot of these things have been pulled. Driving in general is a pretty solitary job. They’re in a truck 10 plus hours a day driving by themselves and our guys are over the road drivers, so they sleep in their trucks. Those lounges were the only opportunity they had at socialization, for the most part.” 

The truckers traveling over the road are now being encouraged to bring their own 15 to 30-day supply of food and supplies. 

“There’s of course some truckers that have no worries about it and think that maybe there’s being made more of it than what there is,” Kelly said. “But there are those who are truly frightened. And as a company we also need to make plans if a State would shut down its borders, and not let our truckers out. It’s just really a scary time in an industry that had already hasn’t been healthy.”

The economy has not been kind to the trucking industry and many large companies including Preston Truck Lines, NationsWay Transport Services and New England Motor Freight to name a few have gone bankrupt.

People may think that it’s just gas costs that trucking companies have to deal with, but there is so much more cost incurred than meets the public’s eye.

“The costs that are incurred in the trucking industry are staggering,” Kelly said. “Fuel is a big portion of cost, but there is so much more to it. Our insurance costs alone are going up close to 20%, and health care is probably the biggest cost, and as a family business we value our drivers and we give them perhaps one of the best health care options that’s out there. That’s led to almost tripling in costs the last four to five years.”

Add to that parts and repairs to the fleet, which Kelly said has really skyrocketed the past few year.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to pass the costs along to the end user, as it is in every industry,” Kelly said. “There’s even talk now about a national mileage tax to repair roadways and trucking seems to be the easy industry to pass that off on.”

As to where Kelly thinks the trucking industry is heading, he remains cautious, but optimistic.

 “We’ve just noticed a real economic downturn,” Kelly said. “Obviously trucking demand versus supply, the demand isn’t quite there. Over the last few years we’ve seen more companies enter into it. Our biggest challenge is the ease of getting into brokerage. You get a third party in there who is taking a percentage and beating a trucker to the customer and often that’s the margin that a trucking company survives on.”

Some of the brokers are taking between 25 and 30% which has helped to cripple the entire industry. Essentially all they do is introduce you to the company. Kelly said that it puts a squeeze on the industry as a whole. This has driven rates down as costs have gone up. He also said that a lot of the bigger companies and some of the small ones who didn’t anticipate the downturn are starting to go under.

“Personally, as a company, we were well prepared to weather the storm,” Kelly said. “We don’t believe in debt. We were able to work through some of those things. We do see the beginnings of some increases in rates, but it’s a tough industry. I believe that trucking is the backbone of the country and we’ve really faced a lot of challenges.”

In a stressful environment where you see a lot of your peers and colleagues going under all around you, there is a staple that Kelly lives by.

“As a workforce we pray for our guys,” he said. “They are family and when they hurt, we hurt. We are a Christian run business and it’s obvious that we rely on God to look after them. We’re all in it together and when we have big wins and successes on the road, we do it together and when we have our struggles, we lift each other up.”

Lock Trucking is located at 1003 16th St, Wheatland. If you have any questions or have a need for their services you can call them at (800) 321-4876 or go directly to their website: https://Locktrucking.com.


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