As the number of COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases continues to rise across the country, businesses are seeking clarity on how the outbreak will affect their supply lines.
Fortunately, most less-than-truckload carriers do not foresee service interruptions as of now, says Kevin Brink, vice preside of sales operations for ReTrans Freight, a provider of freight management services and a FEDA associate member. Most LTL carriers are FEMA carriers of choice, Brink explains. As such, they have pandemic plans and protocols in place. However, he notes that companies will need flexibility when it comes to making pickups or deliveries as business activity begins to fluctuate. Alternative hours and shipping/receiving sites will likely change based on the decisions of individual operating companies as they adjust hours, staffing levels, and interactions with visitors.
The government has already taken steps to alleviate freight issues. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a nationwide waiver to the Hours of Service (HOS) Rule for commercial vehicle drivers transporting goods related to the COVID-19 outbreak. This marks the first time the FMCSA has issued such a waiver on HOS. This means there are no current limits on the number of hours a driver may be active, so long as they are transporting supplies and equipment necessary for healthcare workers, patients, or community safety/sanitation and prevention of the spread of COVID-19. The waiver will last until April 12, or until the end of the emergency declared March 13 by President Trump, whichever is sooner.
In the weeks ahead, Brink warns that the capacity in the marketplace is likely to contract as small fleets suffer a decline in volume. On the flip side, once the emergency has lifted, a surge in business activity is expected, which will cause a capacity crunch as the large volumes of international and domestic freight that are currently in holding suddenly become available and are all shipped at once.