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American truck drivers are still moving the vast majority of American freight, even as the coronavirus upends their lives and industry.
“We keep America moving. That’s just how it is going to be out here,” Ron Round, a Maine-based truck driver, tells “Tucker Carlson Tonight”.
Round starts each day at 5 a.m., running hauls from Bangor to various wood pulp mills around the state. The industrial product of the pulp mills eventually gets turned into paper.
“This is our work from home,” Round says. “The cab of the truck is this home for a lot of drivers. So their working from home is going down the road.”
THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK, STATE-BY-STATE
But going down the road is getting more difficult due to state-level shutdowns and economic uncertainty.
One emerging issue is where to eat and park now that many states have shuttered rest stops.
“You go by a rest area at night and there are all the trucks,” Round says. “That’s where they stop to park. What are we supposed to do now?”
Restaurant shutdowns have become an issue too, since semi-trailer trucks aren’t able to go through drive-thru lanes.
“These drivers aren’t going to have a sit-down meal until they’re home,” says Round. “They’re stocking up, carrying food with them, if they can.”
At a mill in Baileyville, near the Canadian border, Round was asked to fill out a travel questionnaire and given a temperature reading before he was allowed to enter the premises to pick up 60,000 pounds of wood pulp.
“Policies are changing almost daily everywhere we go,” he says.
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Still, trucking remains an essential service. More than 80 percent of American communities rely exclusively on trucks for freight transportation needs, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA).
In rural states, trucks are even more dominant. In Round’s home state of Maine, 84 percent of communities rely exclusively on trucks.
“’Do you have any toilet paper?’ ‘No.’ ‘When’s the truck coming?’ ‘Well, tomorrow.’ Can you imagine what people [would] do, [if] the answer was: ‘The truck ain’t coming. The trucks are shut down,’” says Round. “People would just go in a ridiculous frenzy and it wouldn’t be safe to go shopping.”
A freight trucking index maintained by the ATA showed a sudden boost in tonnage at the onset of the epidemic, mostly brought on by consumers who were trying to stock up.
But in other sectors of the economy, demand for trucking has essentially collapsed.
“Freight was anemic in other supply chains, like that for gasoline, restaurants, and auto factories,” according to ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello.
Falling demand has hit freight prices hard. The average price for booking a big rig is $1.72 per mile, according to DAT solutions, an online freight marketplace. In January, the average price was $1.87 per mile.
Many trucking companies have announced significant cutbacks and slashed pay for executives, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“It’s almost like different entities are working right against us,” Round tells Tucker Carlson Tonight.
But Round has no plan to stop trucking anytime soon, and lucky for him, his state’s mills are still operating.
“On a high note,” he says. “There’s way less traffic than what it normally is.”