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May 5, 2020 4:15 PM, EDT

ATRI Survey Reflects Drop in Congestion, Haul Length

Vehicles on a highwayThe research found that fewer passenger vehicles on the road, a result of dozens of statewide stay-at-home orders, eased congestion. Some 87% of the respondents indicated shorter congestion-related delays. (Tomas Sereda/Getty Images)

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Lighter traffic congestion and shorter hauls are some of the outcomes from the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on trucking operations.

Those findings yield from the American Transportation Research Institute and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Foundation’s joint survey on the impact of COVID-19 on trucking.

More than 5,000 respondents participated in “Trucking Industry Perspectives: How is the Coronavirus Pandemic Impacting the Industry?” The survey launched March 25 and ran through April 9.

Rebecca Brewster

Brewster

“The trucking industry has weathered national disasters in the past and is doing so again through the current COVID crisis,” ATRI President Rebecca Brewster said May 5, when the findings were released.

The research found that fewer passenger vehicles on the road, a result of dozens of statewide stay-at-home orders, eased congestion. Some 87% of the respondents indicated shorter congestion-related delays.

The length of truck hauls has dropped as well. Prior to the pandemic, 32% of truck trips were considered longhaul (1,000 miles or more per trip). During the pandemic, that figure has dropped to 22%. By contrast, local truck trips (less than 100 miles per trip) increased to 18% from nearly 8%.

“While the underlying cause cannot be clearly discerned from the survey data, anecdotal evidence is that longhaul movements of international containers decreased at the same time that fleet operations recalibrated to moving essential consumer goods from local and regional warehouses to retail establishments,” according to the survey.

Some 77% of respondents were truck drivers, the majority of whom were between the ages of 45 and 64 with 11 or more years of experience. And 13% represented fleet executives and personnel who specialize in operations or safety. The remaining 9% were categorized as “other,” meaning they could be retired drivers, instructors or sales managers. They were broadly represented geographically as well as by fleet sector and size.

Also broadly represented was the type of vehicle, which revealed information about demand for commodities. For example, about 40% of respondents representing 5-axle refrigerated trailers indicated an increase in freight volumes for consumer goods.

On the other hand, 5-axle flatbeds and tank trucks had high numbers of responses indicating their freight volumes are “much lower.” Hauling petroleum has declined substantially since fewer passenger vehicles allowed on the road means less of a need to replenish gasoline.

“This research puts solid numbers to what we otherwise only suspected,” said Andrew King, research analyst for the OOIDA Foundation. “While we may be turning the corner on the COVID pandemic, we’re not out of the economic woods yet.”

Overall, about 50% of respondents described freight levels as lower than they were before the pandemic. About 28% of respondents described freight levels as nearly the same. The remaining 22% described operations as higher than normal — likely those primarily moving essential consumer goods and medical supplies, according to the report.

About 45% of respondents described consumer demand as higher during the pandemic. And 31% of responses describing the demand as “much lower” came from drivers of straight trucks.

ATRI Senior Vice President Dan Murray

Murray

“It’s sort of a leading indicator that what’s going on at home and in the few stores that are open is sort of replicated in the trucking industry,” ATRI Senior Vice President Dan Murray told Transport Topics. “The one sort of shocker for us was, we were under the impression that all the online shopping that was going on while people were at home would drive straight truck deliveries way up, and yet we saw a decrease in straight truck deliveries.”

Murray said the straight truck fleet respondents were those who provide services to businesses that have closed. Another possibility is that many straight truck fleets that specialize in e-commerce did not respond to the survey.

The study surveyed other issues that hamper truckers, such as parking and detention time.

RELATED: Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to Increase Truck Parking

About 44% of respondents indicated that finding adequate truck parking was harder. Some 42% said finding parking was “about the same,” meaning it was still difficult but no worse than usual because of the pandemic. The remainder said it has been easier to find parking.

As for driver detention, 54% said loading and unloading times were about the same. Some 34% said the time had increased, while 12% said theirs decreased.

Some 45% of participants said they believe freight volumes would be worse over the next two months. About 41% said they expect freight volumes to stay the same over that period. And 14% said freight volumes would improve.

“It looks like, essentially, no one is unscathed in the industry at some level in the supply chain by what COVID is doing to folks,” Murray said. “You’re getting hit somewhere along the way by something.”

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