The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many industries executed their operations and has had a lasting impact that the world still hasn’t been able to shake. In recent years, federal government agencies have declared various guidelines and regulations pertaining to the transportation industry, including the HOS Emergency Declaration.
What was supposed to be temporary measures has now been extended and could possibly carry on even further. So, what is the emergency declaration and how does it affect our country’s drivers?
What is the COVID HOS Emergency Declaration?
After COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an Hours of Service (HOS) Emergency Declaration which suspended federal regulations and offered relief for fleets engaged in COVID-19 emergency relief operations.
The declaration ensured that transportation services were distributed properly and vital supplies were delivered to areas in need of aid. However, it came with a number of restrictions that excluded some drivers and carriers over others.
As previously mentioned, the declaration was originally supposed to end on April 12, 2020, but has since been extended and expanded upon multiple times. These amendments to the HOS Emergency Declaration include things like, limitations to the transportation of goods like “(1) livestock and livestock feed; (2) medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19; and (3) supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfectants.” And recently, the declaration has been extended yet again.
What’s the latest on the COVID HOS Emergency Declaration?
The FMCSA has recently announced another extension of the emergency declaration amid the dwindling number of COVID-19 cases and the return to national normalcy. The FMCSA also confirmed that carriers would still be relieved from maximum drive-time limits within the hours of service for another 90 days starting June 1st and lasting until the end of August.
The carriers that can take advantage of the extended relief are those who carry commodities in “direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to COVID-19.”
These commodities include:
- Community safety supplies and equipment (disinfectants, gloves, hand sanitizer, and soap)
- Diesel, diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), Gasoline, ethyl alcohol, jet fuel, and heating fuel (propane, natural gas, and heating oil)
- Food, paper products, and grocery items for emergency restocking
- Livestock (and livestock feed)
- Medical supplies related to COVID-19, constituent products, and vaccine supplies/kits
Some commodities that were once on the declaration are no longer covered, including building materials, vehicles, and more.
Will the HOS Emergency Declaration be extended again?
The overall goal is to eventually end the HOS Emergency Declaration. However, this won’t happen until a number of things take place. For starters, the U.S. government must deem that we are no longer in a national emergency. When this will happen is unpredictable since emergency declarations bring in discretionary funds and opportunities for various federal agencies. The troubles within the supply chain have also had an influence on the extensions of this declaration by forcing the FMCSA to waive certain parts of the HOS for haulers moving goods in direct-assistance efforts. So, as we continue to experience supply chain challenges alongside inflationary pressures, another extension could definitely be on the table.
In the meantime, industry experts are hopeful that the span of the current extension will narrow as COVID-19 cases continue to lessen. The FMCSA has also said that they intend “to continue to closely monitor the safety impacts of the relief granted under this extension. … As necessary, FMCSA may take action to modify the Emergency Declaration, including scaling back the commodities covered by the Emergency Declaration or changing the restrictions associated with transporting the commodities.” Or they will move to terminate the hours relief sooner than the end of August if conditions permit.
Frequently Asked Questions from the FMCSA
Question: Does the current COVID-19 Emergency Declaration include the transportation of fuel?
Answer: Yes, the Emergency Declaration includes the transportation of fuel including gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, ethyl alcohol, and heating fuel including propane, natural gas, and heating oil.
Question: What does the May 13, 2022 amendment of the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration change?
Answer: FMCSA amended the commodities covered by the Emergency Declaration to include heating fuel including propane, natural gas, and heating oil.
Question: Why did FMCSA amend the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration?
Answer: FMCSA amended the Emergency Declaration to address particular fuel needs arising out of the ongoing emergency and to broaden the categories of fuel shipments covered.
For more information, visit the FMCSA website.
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On November 4, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that employers with 100 or more employees must either ensure the complete vaccination of their staff, or obtain negative COVID-19 test results weekly. This ETS (Emergency Temporary Standard) requires full vaccination for all employees and paid time off for those needing to get vaccinated during their workday. And while the vaccination mandate goes for all covered employers, it does offer the exception for those willing to establish and enforce weekly COVID-19 testing along with mandatory face coverings while at the workplace. However, this alternative still upset those working in the trucking industry and the supply chains, which are currently fragile, leading to several legal challenges.
So, what does this ETS mean for drivers and others in the trucking industry moving forward?
How does the vaccine mandate affect businesses?
When the Biden Administration announced their latest vaccine and testing requirements, many private businesses, including travel-dependent industries, were left worried about the effect the mandates could have on their businesses. Specifically for the trucking industry, many drivers threatened walkouts and resignations to disrupt further the strained supply chains that have been suffering since early this year. However, as previously mentioned, there are a few exceptions to the requirements.
The current ETS regarding COVID-19 requirements for workplaces with over 100 employees include:
- Businesses must ensure total vaccination for all employees come January 4, 2022.
- Employers must provide paid time off to their employees obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine(s).
- On January 5, 2022, all unvaccinated employees must wear proper face coverings while at their place of work, as well as provide weekly COVID-19 tests with negative results.
- These rulings will supersede any and all state or local laws, including “laws that ban or limit an employer’s authority to require vaccination, masks, or testing.”
Who is exempt from the vaccine mandate?
With the trucking industry facing a severe driver shortage of approximately 80,000 drivers, White House and OSHA officials knew they would need to offer some exceptions. With hopes to avoid further driver depletion and supply chain disruption, which is responsible for things like food, fuel, medicine, and even the COVID-19 vaccine, they developed a shortlist of exemptions.
These exemptions include:
- Workers who do not report to a workplace where other people, including employees, clients, and/or patrons, are present.
- Those who do not interact with persons at their point of departure or destinations.
- Workers who operate alone (aka drivers who are alone in their cabs)
- Remote employees
- Exclusively outdoor workers
To the American Trucking Association’s delight, these exemptions apply to a large portion of the commercial truck driver population and provide a sense of security to the industry as a whole. Overall, the mandate would only apply to drivers operating in teams or those required to interact with others at their loading or unloading stations.
What about international and cross-border truckers?
For drivers who cross borders to deliver goods, the mandate requirements are different. As of right now, both the U.S. and Canadian governments are requiring non-citizens to be fully vaccinated, regardless of their reasons for entry. And come January of 2022, the Department of Homeland Security will require all foreign travelers coming into the country to provide proof of total vaccination, an extension to the non-essential traveler requirement, which started in November of 2021. To meet this requirement, one must be fully vaccinated with any vaccine, including Pfizer, Moderna, Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Covaxin, Covishield, Sinopharm, or Sinovac. However, if the vaccine requires two doses, the last dose must be administered within 14 days before entry.
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The COVID-19 pandemic will surely go down in history as one of the most chaotic times the world has ever experienced. Essential workers sacrificed their health and stretched themselves thin for the American people, spending many hours away from their homes to meet the increasing pressure brought on by restrictions and regulations.
As people begin recovering from the effects of the pandemic and vaccines are distributed throughout communities, many industries are forced to relook at how they handle business. So, what does this mean for the trucking industry in this post-pandemic era?
Why Fleets are Experiencing 2021 Prosperity
Since the beginning of the pandemic, consumers have continuously relied on online platforms for their wants and needs. And as businesses open back up, many flock to the sight of normalcy, leaving companies in need of constant supply. This consistent demand has fallen on the backs of truckers nationwide and has many freight companies stretched thin.
In May alone, total spending on freight surged to a record 50% year over year, while shipping volumes swelled to a whopping 35%, making this year the second-highest index level ever recorded. “It’s safe to say the pandemic recovery is progressing much faster than the recovery from the Great Recession,” according to the Cass Freight Index.
However, this overwhelming need has ultimately led to an intense growth in domestic shipping rates, and in turn, a shortage in freight vehicles and drivers. With consumerism at an all-time high, the demand for technological advances, logistical adaptations, and competitive packages are needed within the trucking industry now more than ever.
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Technological and Logistical Adaptations
During COVID-19, the logistics were constantly changing, leaving fleet operators looking for the most efficient way to deliver goods. Fleet carriers, suppliers and drivers were forced to adopt new technologies in order to communicate and operate.
Support teams scrambled to set up shop from their new home offices, onboarding and training employees in tandem on complex software applications to optimize routes, and learn contactless payment systems to reduce exposure.
All the headaches and changes have to lead to a safer, happier, and more productive supply chain and delivery system. The dream of being able to bump the docks and roll onto the next load and enjoy the high tide of “The Era of Post COVID Trucking” is alive as well.
The Future Looks Bright
“We’re just in the beginning stages of this very robust recovery,” said Bob Costello, chief economist at American Trucking Associations. “Some younger people have never seen an economy grow like this before,” he said. “People in their 20s and early 30s have never seen anything like this over a sustained period of time.”
The trucking industry will continue to experience growth in the coming months as long as fleets continue to hire more drivers and balance out the supply and demand issue. Enticing workers to become professional drivers will be (and has been) the primary obstacle for the freight market.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll start seeing people come back into the job market … and we get a closer balance between supply and demand, and that holds up in ’22 so that we don’t see rates come down too substantially and put the market into another freight recession like we saw in 2019,” said Hugh Ekberg, CEO of diversified carrier CRST.
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What You Need to Know About Food Truck Financing
The food truck industry grew steadily between 2014 and 2019 as these mobile restaurants became a trendy way to serve different cuisines to a hungry clientele. In fact, the industry grew 6.8% year over year during that time, peaking at more than $1 billion.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Like many industries, food trucks were hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus. While food trucks could continue to operate during the pandemic, the customers they relied on to stay afloat disappeared, especially in urban areas.
Food trucks have long benefitted from parking in downtown metropolitan areas, feeding lunch to the masses of office workers. With more employees working remotely from home, the lunch crowd vanished. So did the demand for food trucks to attend large gatherings or other well-attended social events, forcing many to close their doors.
The Coming Food Truck Resurgence
Hopefully, for food truck owners the worst is now in the past. With states lifting restrictions and more people returning to normal life, the opportunities that originally spurred massive growth will soon return. Entrepreneurs interested in starting a food truck—or those who stopped during the heart of the pandemic—will soon want to re-enter the market.
Many, however, will require financing, both for the truck itself and equipment used inside. Here are a few things to consider when shopping for food truck financing.
1) Choose a commercial vehicle lender.
Food truck financing can be a little different than getting a loan for another small business. If you have good credit, you should be able to get a loan—but instead of approaching a bank, find lenders that specifically offer vehicle loans. Some companies even offer vehicle financing tailored for food trucks. As with other loans, food truck owners will need to make a down payment, put down some collateral, or include a co-signer.
2) Plan to purchase a truck in good condition.
It may be tempting to buy a fixer-upper, but many companies will not provide commercial vehicle financing if the truck is not a worthy investment. Plus, there is nothing more frustrating than losing potential income from a lengthy breakdown. It may be worth it to pay a little extra for a reliable vehicle.
3) Consider a business credit.
A business credit card or business line of credit may be required. It can be difficult to start any business, and some creditors may want more information or a history of success in the food business before offering a loan. If you are starting new, it may be difficult to get a traditional loan. You may need to use business credit until you prove your business acumen to a larger lender. If that’s the case, food truck owners will need a good credit score and may have to offer personal collateral.
4) Don’t forget about equipment loans.
Of course, food trucks require more than just the truck. They house special equipment, like a stovetop or a deep fryer, to cook food on demand; they also need refrigeration to keep ingredients safe. Equipment loans typically use the cooking items you are leasing as collateral, so if you default on a payment they will be taken away.
5) Leverage an SBA microloan.
Perfect for food trucks, the US Small Business Administration’s Microloan Program provides up to $50,000 to borrowers. Borrowers can use these funds to purchase supplies, equipment, and food inventory. These can be an excellent way to get a food truck off the ground once the vehicle has been acquired.
6) Explore other ways to finance your food truck.
Crowdfunding can be a viable method as well. Think Kickstarter or GoFundMe. Food trucks have boomed during the time of social media with trucks using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to announce their location, share pictures of what people are eating, and even release special deals. Food truck owners can get creative, offering loyal customers a small cut of the profits or a special per—five free meals per month, for example—in exchange for an investment.
The Bottom Line
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought great uncertainty to the food and beverage world, but it’s also time to rethink how things are done. Food trucks have proved to be a solid business for those who can make delicious food and find a market to sell it to. There are multiple ways to finance a food truck, so if you have the desire to get started, you can find several paths to lead you to your dream.
We have officially passed the grim one-year mark since the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in the United States. Since then, the trucking industry faced massive unemployment for a period of time and now faces a shortage of drivers due to several pandemic-related factors. With the global health crisis still in full-force, long-haul drivers must still be vigilant about protecting their health while on the road. The good news is, the United States is currently distributing multiple vaccines, meaning the country is on its way to returning to some semblance of normalcy. But when will long-haul truck drivers be eligible to receive the vaccine?
What are the Vaccination Phases?
The Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established a recommended vaccination schedule detailing when specific population segments should be vaccinated. The proposed vaccination schedule was designed to find a balance between prevention of morbidity and mortality and preservation of societal functioning—in other words, preventing as many unnecessary deaths as possible while protecting the economy.
The first round of vaccinations has been broken up into three phases:
- Phase 1a – Includes residents of long-term care facilities and healthcare personnel
- Phase 1b – Includes persons 75 years of age or older and frontline essential workers
- Phase 1c – Includes persons 65-74 years of age, persons 16-64 years of age with high-risk medical conditions, and other essential workers
You may be asking yourself, “Where do truckers fit into this plan?” That’s a great question. Since early December, the American Trucking Association (ATA) has been pushing the federal government to include truckers in phase 1b as frontline essential workers due to the massive role truckers play in the distribution of vaccines. Originally, transportation industry workers were included in Phase 1b because of the risks posed to the health of unvaccinated truckers while on the road. The CDC has since updated its vaccination plan, moving the transportation and logistics sector to Phase 1c.
States Control Vaccine Distribution
Here’s where things get tricky. Neither the CDC nor ACIP has the power to enforce who receives a vaccine in each phase or the vaccination schedule; these decisions are ultimately left up to the discretion of state governments. According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), only 33 states have adjusted their Phase 1c groups to reflect CDC and ACIP updates; of these states, only 17 follow ACIP recommendations. Many states have expanded the age range compared to the recommendations while some states have implemented even stricter requirements for the essential worker designation.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that states are moving at very different paces to try and vaccinate all of their residents. The majority of states are in Phase 1a of the vaccination process while 10 states and the District of Columbia have moved on to Phase 1b. Very few states, like Michigan, have begun Phase 1c of vaccination. Stay up to date on Phase 1 vaccination roll-out by checking with your state and local governments for their specific vaccination schedule.
Some Drivers Need the Vaccine More Than Others
Even within the transportation industry, there are specific groups of truckers who face a much higher risk of infection than others. For example, package delivery drivers often interact with the general public in their day-to-day routine, making it important for them to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
What about long-haul truck drivers? While they may not have as much public interaction as delivery drivers, truckers do face an increased risk of infection while on the road. The average long-haul driver spends 300 days each year on the road. That means for 300 days, truckers use public facilities for bathrooms and showers, eat at public restaurants, and interact with officials at truck stops and weigh stations. The ATA has tried multiple times to get long-haul drivers designated as Phase 1b frontline essential workers, noting that more than 80% of U.S. communities rely exclusively on trucks to receive necessary goods.
As previously stated, individual states have the ability to make their own vaccination schedule, depending on their needs. For example, both Georgia and Massachusetts expanded their Phase 1b to cover all essential workers, long-haul drivers included. Navigate to your state’s website to find more information on its vaccination roll-out schedule.
Days are becoming colder and shorter, festive lights are appearing on every street, and fleets of semi-trucks are working to move holiday goods in tandem with their essential deliveries. This peak season, you can anticipate a 10-20% increase in your mileage as you travel the U.S. to transport products and meet high consumer demand. The combination of demand, winter road conditions, and the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to truckers feeling more pressure than usual.
Not to mention, this year, companies like Amazon and UPS plan to fill over 100,000 seasonal distribution jobs throughout the United States. As these large retailers hire seasonal workers, the demand for shipping providers will mirror the growth—which means you need to prepare yourself and your rig before starting on a busy haul during peak season. In this blog, we will discuss how you can prepare, get ahead of your competition, and reach your maximum earning potential while staying safe and enjoying the holidays.
1. Preventative Maintenance
Caring for your rig is crucial to the survival of your operations. A great way to start the caretaking process and prepare your truck for peak season is through preventative maintenance. If your truck has recently been idle for an extended period, you could be looking at rusted parts, sludge where there once were fluids, and other potentially critical issues. With the holiday season approaching, take your semi to a mechanic to perform a full inspection; they can then handle any necessary maintenance, like an oil change or hose replacement. While this may seem like a costly process, it could mean the difference between a successful season and a broken-down rig. In the long run, taking care of your truck will keep you safe and your truck running smoothly all season long—which means more jobs and greater revenue.
2. Vary Freight Sources
When COVID-19 forced America to shut down, around 88,300 drivers lost their jobs in April alone. This hit was devastating to the trucking industry, and it caused many owner/operators to reevaluate how they run their fleet. As technology progresses, mobile apps and load boards are on the rise in popularity among drivers. A source like DAT keeps up with the industry’s varying factors, like the economy or the weather. Technology can also provide real-time updates and insights to keep you in touch with your supply chains and help obtain your maximum earning potential.
On top of mobile apps and load boards, you can work with companies like Amazon, Walmart, Target, and more. As e-commerce demand sets new records year after year, the holiday season continues to see spikes in spot rates as companies meet their contract limitations but rush to keep up with shipping demands brought on by the COVID-19 shutdown. Spot rates have hit a record high of $2.37 per mile this year and will most likely surpass that number in these next few months. Keep an eye out for these job openings over the next couple of months.
3. Revisit Your Insurance
Another way to prepare for this unique holiday season is to revisit your insurance. The COVID-19 pandemic brought immeasurable amounts of uncertainty, and it’s during times like these that insurance becomes crucial. While commercial trucking insurance is one of the more expensive components of owning and operating, it reduces the majority of your expenses and covers you in the event of an accident. With the winter weather bringing harsh weather conditions, your chances of an accident increase, making peak season the perfect time to reach out to your provider and reevaluate your damage and rental coverage.
4. Practice COVID-19 Protocol
Possibly the more obvious way to prepare for the COVID-19 holiday season is to familiarize yourself with the standard protocol. As you travel, you’ll find yourself in unfamiliar locations; plan your route by keeping in mind where you can eat, sleep, and refuel. Restaurants and fast-food locations across the country have had to change their operation hours, so you’ll need to consider that when planning your route. On the bright side, some of these restaurants are providing discounts and other offers for the inconvenience. These can be found under the International Franchise Association at franchise.org.
The same restrictions and benefits go for accommodations as well. Try to limit your exposure by decreasing the number of times you interact with frequently touched objects and disinfect these objects and surfaces when you can. Stay socially distanced from others during stops or when loading and unloading, and use a proper face covering in public. Wash your hands after visiting a location or handling items like clipboards or other frequently touched objects. To keep up with state and local regulations, use government resources like the CDC, ATA, CVSA, FMCSA, FHWA, and the SBA.
Now that you know what it takes for a successful peak season, it’s time to get to work.
While this year has higher shipping demands due to COVID-19, the holidays have always come with their own set of challenges. Read our post, How the Holiday Season Impacts the Trucking Industry, to see what obstacles the holidays present and how to overcome them.