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Effects of pandemic felt by trucking industry

MARQUETTE — With the progression of COVID-19 in the last few weeks, consumers have been flocking to the stores buying large quantities of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and toilet paper. Shelves in many stores are empty of these items or the quantity that can be purchased is being limited due to demand.

Mickey Blashfield, CEO and President of the Michigan Trucking Association, said the lack of everyday goods on shelves isn’t a supply problem, but a challenge at the distribution level, as the trucking industry has ramped up its usual operations in response to the pandemic.

“The way I see it, we don’t really have a shortage situation. Manufacturers have the goods, have the capacity to get the goods manufactured, it’s kind of an artificial distribution problem right now,” Blashfield said. “Because the consumers take matters into their own hands with what they purchase and in some cases hoard, more than just meeting their needs, because it’s unchartered waters for all of us.”

To increase the supply of relief goods, the federal government has extended Hours of Service Regulations, which limit the amount of time a driver can spend behind the wheel, he said.

“That’s the nature of the industry. Anytime there’s like a hurricane or regional disaster, trucking has mobilized in these ways to do that,” Blashfield said.

But restrictions that have come with the spread of the virus have presented new challenges for truckers such as the availability of rest stops, meals and parking spaces.

“In Michigan we’ve had welcome centers that have closed their lobbies to the extent possible. They’ve tried to keep the restrooms open but the reports that I’m hearing are people have stolen the soap and the toilet paper from rest areas,” Blashfield said. “Truckers have to have the availability of those facilities as well as meals.”

The closure of all restaurants except for carry out and delivery service presents another problem for truckers who eat all their meals on the road, but many truck stops have been offering curbside service to drivers, he said. Other problems faced by the industry amid the restrictions have been renewing licenses for current drivers and getting new drivers out on the road.

The effects of the pandemic have hit drivers just like everyone else, but they’re still present on the roads to ensure vital products are getting from manufacturers to the shelves during this time, he added.

“It stresses the drivers because they have families at home as well too, they’re working overtime to be the backbone of the nation right now in these trying times, and our goal as an association — both as a statewide association and national federation, the American Trucking Association — has been to advocate to make sure trucking is exempt from as many of the shutdown rules and also to be able to protect the drivers,” Blashfield said.

As truck drivers work longer hours and have more limited access to rest stops along the way, Blashfield encouraged the public to thank a driver during these trying times.

“If you have a trucker behind you at a fast food place or at a restaurant picking up carry out, pick up their meal for them, buy their meal for them, tell them thank you like we do for veterans, because right now these are just short of first responders,” he said. “Because like I said they have families, they have needs, they have fears and aspirations but they’re setting those aside to get your products into your hands. So let them know you appreciate them any way you can … Maybe giving them a thumbs up as you’re going down the road — safely of course.”

Blashfield hopes throughout this people keep in mind the important role truckers play in a time like this.

“There’s an old saying, ‘If you’ve got it, a truck brought it,’ and it’s no more true today than ever before,” he said.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is tcarey@miningjournal.net.

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