Trucking companies deal with virus fallout

A McNay truck makes it's way on Wismann Lane on Thursday. Three area trucking companies say uptick in demand hasn't caused issues with every day operations. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 30, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY -- Roads around the nation have been eerily quiet as states have ordered citizens to stay at home as much as possible to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

While offices are increasingly encouraging employees to work from home, trucking companies aren't afforded that luxury. Especially with demand for goods at grocery stores and medical facilities rapidly increasing.

Three trucking companies based in Quincy -- Gully Transportation Inc., Sharkey Transportation, Inc., and McNay Truck Line -- have felt the increase in demand.

"Our truck capacity is a lot tighter over the last week than what it was over the previous month," Gully Transportation Vice President Andrew Eisenbeiss said. "Certain markets are a lot tighter as well."

The uptick in demand hasn't caused issues with the everyday operations, however.

"Our fleet is running normal, but (we) have seen an increase recently," McNay Truck Line Safety Director Tim Winfield said. "Products we move are mostly food, beverage, food ingredients and food packaging. Drivers have been challenged by restaurant closures."

Not only are restaurant closings causing issues for deliveries, it lessens the drivers' options for food on the road. With businesses and government entities shutting down, the Illinois Trucking Association (ITA) is doing all it can to keep necessary services like rest areas open and available.

"We have been working directly with the governor's administration and the Illinois Department of Transportation to make sure the rest areas stay open in Illinois," ITA President and Director Matt Hart said. "We've worked with all our other state trucking association partners to make sure that all the rest areas are open."

Last week, Pennsylvania temporarily closed all 30 of its state-run rest areas, though after push back from local and national trucking associations the state reopened 13 of the 30 sites.

"Here in Illinois, I have spoken directly with Omer Osman, the secretary of transportation, and he has assured us that the current administration fully supports the trucking industry, and they are committed to keeping our rest areas open as long as they can," Hart said.

Gully Transportation mainly deals with deliveries of raw materials to manufacturers and from manufacturers to distribution centers, but that doesn't lessen the drivers' potential for possible exposure to COVID-19.

"Right now everywhere is not really safe. Our guys are exposed just as much as the guys delivering to the grocery stores," Eisenbeiss said. "They still have to use all the public facilities and truck stops. Restaurants are shutting down, so they have less opportunity to stop and eat. They have to fuel up on their own.

"They are out there doing some good things. I think they are finally getting some much-needed respect."

While trucking companies are still sending drivers out, they are doing so with an abundance of precaution.

"We have communicated to all of our drivers if you feel sick stay home, or if this is reported while out on routes we bring them back immediately, or send them to closest hospitals or clinics for help," Winfield said. "We also have notified all of our employees, if they feel uncomfortable working, they have the choice to self-quarantine."

"We're following all the government recommendations and CDC guidelines," Eisenbeiss said. "We've increased all of our sanitation processes in the trucks and in the offices. With the drivers, we are making sure they are up to date and feel safe to perform what we need them to perform."

One positive truck drivers have noticed is an increased appreciation for their work.

"There's a lot of people out there who certainly appreciate the hard work of the men and women in the trucking industry," Hart said. "In Illinois, there's 300,000 men and women working in the trucking industry. It's one out of every 17 jobs."

"We can all go without movie stars, we can go without sporting events, but we sure can't go without the truck driver delivering groceries, without the truck driver delivering gas."

As long as roads are open and they are allowed, trucks will continue rolling out to keep the shelves stocked.

"We are simply moving forward on a day-to-day basis because this is an evolving situation," Eisenbeiss said. "Every day is a new day, we just have to take the challenges as they come and overcome them."

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