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Covid-19 shortages: brokers shift trucking capacity to “essential” sectors

27 Mar 2020
Category: News
Author: Evan Pundyk

Under the pressure of sudden spikes in demand for goods ranging from hospital gear to toilet paper and groceries, many truckers and shippers are seeking the trucking capacity  needed to keep inventory moving during prolonged Covid-19 shutdowns.

The impact of the pandemic has created massive challenges in freight yards and warehouses, where many facilities struggling with coronavirus conditions have cut their staffing levels and reduced operating hours at loading and receiving docks, according to Prasad Gollapalli, founder and CEO of Trucker Tools LLC, a Reston, Virginia-based logistics technology provider.

Those conditions come at the same time as a massive demand surge by panicked consumers, as Trucker Tools says it has seen a nearly 25% increase in the number of loads tracked on its platform this month. Together, those conditions are creating additional challenges for truck scheduling and transit times. “It’s a difficult time for everyone, from health care workers on the front lines, to brokers working from home arranging shipment of urgent goods, and truckers trying to make pickups or deliveries where access to shipper locations is changing daily,” Gollapalli said in a release.

The turbulence in freight flows triggered by Covid-19 quarantines has hit various sectors in different ways, with some “essential” industries seeing two-fold increases or more in demand for dry van trucking capacity, while others have seen a decline leaving businesses almost completely idle, agreed Eric Lien, executive vice president, strategic partners, at Arrive Logistics, an Austin, Texas-based freight brokerage.

In response, players throughout the industry have been hustling to reposition trucking capacity from slower industries—like automotive and retail—to those that are suddenly seeing huge demand, such as food and beverage or cleaning supplies.

But even logistics professionals say it is tough to make those changes happen overnight. For example, the ability to make an appointment to pick up or drop off a load at a certain hour becomes more difficult when a facility is receiving twice its normal volume, especially when new drivers are not accustomed to serving those lanes, Lien said.

Under those trying conditions, the best-run warehouses are offering amenities like vending machines and bottled water, which are simple items that many drivers are having a tough time getting in a time when many truck stops and restaurants have been closed in efforts to stop the virus.

The solution requires flexibility by both sides in areas such as scheduling dock loading appointments. But even that goal can hard to reach when large truck fleets often communicate through complex technology like transportation management system (TMS) software, while owner/operators may still use basic cell phones.

In such a highly fragmented industry, there is no blueprint for solving this unprecedented challenge except offering more flexibility, said Justin Frees, Arrive Logistics’ executive vice president of carrier development. “Whether you’re communicating by telephone to a small guy or via TMS to a larger carrier, you have to be willing to be all over the map,” Frees said. “Flexibility is the answer; unless you’re able to use the array of types and sizes and communication channels that these guys use, then you won’t be effective for the carrier or the shipper.”

In its own move to help logistics providers relieve the pressure of operating during coronavirus closures, Trucker Tools today said it has tweaked its mobile app for drivers and its digital freight tracking service.

The firm said it will waive overage fees for users of its nationwide, digital freight tracking service, providing unlimited use of real-time shipment visibility platform for 60 days. In addition, it has added a “Covid-19” section to its mobile driver app, creating a clearinghouse for listing key information, support resources, and operational tips to help truckers manage during the crisis. “Shippers have heightened interest in the safe and secure transit of their goods – and meeting critical on-time delivery deadlines,” Gollapalli said.


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