Trucking has been lauded as an essential industry during the national crisis brought on by COVID-19. The consistent and free movement of goods to grocery stores, pharmacies and hospitals has elevated this sector from an economic backwater to the forefront of the federal government’s pandemic response. Consumers and shippers alike are grateful for the trucking community’s willingness to put themselves at risk, so that we maintain a sense of normalcy in these uncertain times.
As we focus on flattening the curve, we must also look ahead to lasting economic challenges in the months to come. Notably, we must understand that the current efforts by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to buoy SMBs are merely a stopgap. Given that 91% of trucking companies in the U.S. are small businesses with six or fewer trucks, the SBA can only do so much to keep these carriers viable through stimulus cash.
Instead of financial bandaids, we need to be thinking about how we keep truckers working consistently, especially as the gap left by non-essential goods becomes more pronounced with demand for essentials flattening out.
Expansive infrastructure initiatives would accomplish this overnight.
As someone who has spent his entire professional career in the trucking industry, I’m calling upon our government to protect the carriers who are keeping our supply chain running during these unprecedented times. The stimulus is a start-- but we need a tangible, long-term approach to getting the country back to work. Infrastructure is one way we can make sure that happens.
Thinking beyond the CARES Act
The $1,200 refundable tax credit authorized under the CARES Act was designed as a stopgap measure, and the painfully slow rollout of that cash infusion further demonstrates its limited value. Additionally, the Payroll Protection Program, though off to a rocky start, will buoy small businesses for the months that they are not operational. But these initiatives are just phase one in what needs to be a multifaceted solution.
Cash stimulus was the appropriate first wave in the federal response. Now, the next phase needs to focus on putting America back to work through job creation. Infrastructure is arguably the fastest way to do that, not just for trucking but for multiple industries.
Infrastructure jobs present two key benefits: The first is that there are “shovel ready” projects that could be made considerably more attractive by streamlining the permit process. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), nearly 50,000 bridges are in need of repair across the country. That accounts for more than eight percent of all domestic bridges. Less complicated projects like repaving of rural roads would also provide an immediate benefit to carriers.
The second value is elevated wages. According to the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC, “Infrastructure occupations often provide more competitive and equitable wages compared to all jobs nationally, consistently paying up to 30 percent more to low-income workers over the past decade.”
As unemployment soars, time is of the essence and putting people to work immediately is critical.
Costs and congestion are at historic lows
There are a number of factors that point toward infrastructure as a viable path to recovery. Asphalt prices are as low as they’ve ever been, and traffic on highways, bridges, and tunnels are currently just a fraction of normal volume. Projects that would normally require staggered schedules can now operate around the clock, shrinking project timelines and putting more people to work.
In addition to the low cost of materials, diesel prices have taken a nosedive since January 1st, dropping 17 percent. Trucking capacity is at the ready to support a sudden influx of construction projects, due to the steep reduction of freight in the non-essential sector. Putting more trucks to work when fuel costs are low would keep small and medium-sized carriers viable in the midst of this national freight lull.
Safety Upgrades For Our Carriers
A final benefit to truckers, as well as any American who drives a car, would be the end product. Substandard roads, bridges, and tunnels contribute to delays, accidents, and damage to vehicles every day. For carriers, avoiding debilitated damage to one’s fleet of trucks can be the difference between bankruptcy and viability.
In this unprecedented and uncertain time, there have been repeated instances of bipartisan support for a massive infrastructure bill. Now is not the time to kick this can down the road. We need action now so that America can get back to work, with truckers leading the way on the road to recovery.