An Opportunity for Real Change: Ray’s 2020 Rant

I am struck with the idea that what we are currently living through will eventually be reduced to a chapter in a history book, hopefully, sooner rather than later. We are in the middle of an event that some of us more seasoned folks have been through before, albeit a different version. Maybe not to this extent, but I remember SARS (or as it was also known at the time, the Asian bird flu) and the absolute devastation it was going to bring to us all. Where is SARS now? I suggest that as stated, it can be found as a paragraph in history books, and that is where it belongs. Of course, the unfortunate piece of the puzzle is that when SARS eventually subsided, it was widely acknowledged at the time that another SARS type situation or worse was going to reoccur, and it would be a matter of when and not if it would happen.

Whether you believe this current problem to be hyped beyond reasonable thinking, or if you believe what most of the media suggest in their reporting on the seriousness of the situation really does not matter. We are where we are with this thing and what cannot be ignored are the closed borders, suffering businesses barely surviving or failing, unemployment at double-digit highs, sickness, and deaths. These are realities no matter what side of the debate you are on.

As an aside, if you are interested in seeing the similarities between the 2002–2003 SARS outbreak and today’s pandemic, you will find many shocking similarities. It is incredible to see the Deja vu and how we have learned so little from our experiences. As voters, we should have had expectations of a better performance level from our leaders.

When I think about the things that I speak to in my workshops for carriers and the SWOT test that I strongly advocate they use as a tool for strategic planning, I get frustrated with our government for what we are currently experiencing. The Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threats exercises, if done by our political leaders, would have been efficient in revealing areas of concern to be addressed for the future and to show us opportunities to be capitalized upon. This exercise is not new to organizations or governments that are enlightened – a government that decides that a detailed exercise in planning strategy is a much more effective way to secure a successful future than by pandering to the loudest issue or PAC of the day. But, I believe, this type of foresight is a little too much to expect from our current, political leaders. It was widely expected that a Covid-19 or a Covid-19 type event was eventually coming. This concept was accepted and professed by many in the infectious disease community. Were we adequately prepared? Not even close. We outsourced many of the PPE supplies that our front-line folks needed to other countries – talk about having our heads in the sand! Such short-term thinking should have no place in people seeking leadership positions, in any nation.

Trucking is currently labelled an essential service and for many years has been referred to as a base utility by the more enlightened among us. I believe both references are accurate. But in the long run, will it retain this status? Certainly, without drivers and trucking companies, everything stops. We all know this. The question for me, moving forward, is how our trade associations and individual voices might leverage our new-found status. Since there are so many issues that need to be addressed, can we leverage our heightened profile to possibly gain ground on some of the problems? That is the question on both sides of the border.

We might start with tort reform by limiting nuclear rewards that the courts have hammered many trucking companies with over the past couple of decades. If this were dealt with effectively, what kind of pressure would that take off the current state of the oppressive insurance rates that plague anyone who operates a Class 8 vehicle from both large and small fleets and for the Owner-Operators? I believe that most trucking company failures over the past 3-5 years have been related to this issue.

As an essential service, shouldn’t demurrage (unpaid waiting time) be something that could be fixed? This is an issue that has been around since the dawn of the first truck. To put zero value on a person’s time and equipment and to expect to do so for free makes no sense whatsoever. Try telling the next plumber, electrician or HVAC person that comes to your house that they will need to wait outside for a couple of hours until you have time for them. In today’s big data world this issue should be history and any trucking company that even mentions that waiting time is unpaid should face severe consequences.

As an essential service, the truck parking issue should be an easy one to fix. This is another issue that snuck up on us in plain sight. I remember that this was starting to happen when I drove 30 plus years ago but what a surprise – it did not fix itself. Since we are an essential service, companies that can accommodate trucks should be gladly opening their lots to weary drivers. Along with opening these lots, the practice of food trucks helping to feed drivers should remain and be expanded along with the need for proper restroom facilities for drivers. We the consumer need our stuff and the fact that a driver cannot find a safe place to sleep in their truck is a croc!

This article barely scratches the surface of what needs to be addressed: driver wages, the myriad of taxes from every state and province and a Federal government that looks on this essential service as a cash cow. Also, to be considered are the infrastructure issues, CSA inadequacies and the stacks of rules and regulations mounted on what is supposedly our deregulated industry.

What happens as we slowly creep out of the pandemic? How long it will take is anyone’s guess but the opportunity to make significant gains on critical issues plaguing our industry is now. We currently have the public’s favor and with that comes our heightened profile to be watched by our politicians. How this situation is leveraged will be interesting to watch unfold. One can only hope, right?

Safe trucking.

Ray J. Haight

About Ray J. Haight

Areas of Focus: Operations, Recruiting & Retention, Human Resources With a career spanning four decades, Ray has been involved in all facets of the North American Trucking Industry.