National Trucking Week 2020: Considering the essentials

by Dave Earle, president & CEO, BC Trucking Association
Dave Earle

As we approach six months into a global pandemic, “essential” has taken on a different meaning. While economies shut down in an attempt to keep the coronavirus at bay and our healthcare systems functioning, we all had to grapple with two questions. Could we operate virtually?  And if not, was our service essential to daily life?

The British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA) was lucky to be able to answer “Yes” to the first question. More importantly, our members could answer “Yes” to the second. Throughout the pandemic, trucking companies and professional truck drivers in particular have reliably provided an essential service that helped the rest of us survive.

But they didn’t do this in a vacuum. Many players helped out. For National Trucking Week this year, September 6 to 12, it seems right to acknowledge the community of effort that went into supporting our industry and its work.

We all had to pivot. We worked with federal and provincial governments and health authorities to establish protocols and exemptions to allow food and supplies to flow safely across the country and the border. Trucking companies learned to follow new health protocols, source and distribute masks, gloves and sanitizer to their drivers and staff, and figure out how to keep trucks on the road given changing demand and types of cargo for transport. They couldn’t just shut down.

Professional drivers felt the profound impact of these changes and uncertainty. Though truck drivers are already isolated in their vehicles while on the road, like other front-line workers they could not maintain an immediate-family-only bubble. They not only had to think about their own exposure, but also the possibility of carrying the virus back to their loved ones. They couldn’t stay in controlled workplaces. They relied on protocols to work in unfamiliar, uncertain environments.

And, all of us—worrying about potential quarantines, stocking our shelves, embracing online shopping— became hyperaware that we couldn’t function without truck drivers.

As other businesses struggled with the shutdown, truck drivers lost access to many of the services that would have helped them: restaurants, card lock stores, washrooms and some rest areas became off limits or, like drive-thru-only food services, impossible to use.

No one anticipated the breadth of these challenges, and they inspired an unprecedented response. Restaurants, including small businesses in BC communities like Greenwood, Christina Lake and Midway, figured out how to serve truck drivers. A group of concerned business owners in Kamloops created a meal solution for drivers. Deploying food trucks at card lock locations throughout BC, with alerts for drivers via Facebook and a dedicated website, Meals for Truckers. From April to August, food trucks in Kamloops, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Chilliwack and, initially, Prince George served up meals and snacks. BCTA members, individuals, organizations and businesses voluntarily sponsored $70,000 in free meals for truck drivers at these locations.

Our provincial government also reacted, arranging for mobile washrooms at inspection stations and food trucks at BC rest areas serving commercial vehicles. The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority set up washrooms for drivers hauling marine containers. Hotels launched special “truck driver” rates, including for short stays, enough time for a nap and shower. Communities like Valemount and Revelstoke contacted BCTA to share lists of local services catering to truck drivers.

This was happening not just in BC but across Canada and North America, as people posted “Thank you” signs in their windows, handed out sandwiches and sanitizer, stood applauding passing rigs at roadsides and fences. Use of the #ThankATrucker hashtag on social media, promoted by both the Canadian Trucking Alliance and the American Trucking Associations, is one indicator of the level of appreciation and encouragement.

The response of individuals, businesses and communities was heartwarming, welcome and essential. Without this support, the often invisible supply chain we all rely on would have crumbled.

Covid-19 is far from beaten. But our industry and other essential service providers are still going strong. Happy National Trucking Week to the industry, and, on behalf of BCTA’s members, thank you to all the players in our widespread and generous community for your understanding and support.