Groups share data quantifying COVID-19 impacts on trucking industry

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 489 views 

A telematics company and a research organization serving the trucking and transportation industry have released commercial vehicle activity data to shed light on how the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is impacting the industry.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the research organization of American Trucking Associations, released Wednesday (April 22) new data that quantifies the continued impacts of COVID-19 business disruptions on the trucking industry.

The analysis includes truck activity across six states from February 9 through the week ending April 18. ATRI converted real-time truck GPS data into a truck activity index.

“The GPS data we use is a valuable tool into what is going on in the economy and the trucking industry right now,” said Rebecca Brewster, president and chief operating officer for ATRI. “We knew from talking to drivers and carrier executives that there were significant impacts on operations as a result of COVID-19, but now, by analyzing this data we are able to put numbers and data to feelings and anecdotes.”

The data shows a spike in initial truck activity in the analyzed states and documents the response to high consumer demand for items such as non-perishable food and paper products along with emergency medical supplies. The analysis also shows the impacts of the stay-at-home orders that shut down major segments of the economy, resulting in a decline in trucking operations in April.

Following are some highlights from the report:

  • California had the earliest stay-at-home order issued on March 19. California had the earliest rise in truck activity, happening the week of March 1. However, truck activity in California has fallen 8.3% from early February.
  • The week of March 8, truck activity spiked in Florida, Illinois and New York but has since fallen more than 10% from February 9.
  • In the week of March 15, truck activity jumped in Pennsylvania and Washington but has since declined nearly 9% from February 9.

Initial signs of a return have started to appear. In New York, one of the earliest states to experience a high number of reported cases of COVID-19, truck activity experienced a positive uptick in the week of April 12.

“In these unprecedented times, we need to rely on science and facts, not anecdotes and speculation,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. “This ATRI research is able to tell us in near-real-time what the pandemic is really doing to the trucking industry.”

Meanwhile, Geotab, an internet of things (IoT) and connected transportation provider, recently released data showing commercial transportation continues amid the pandemic but at lower levels than earlier this year. Geotab’s data includes information from the more than 2 million commercial vehicles for which it provides service, and about 70% of the data comes from trucks, ranging from pickups to class 8 trucks, the largest truck class.

Bob Bradley, associate vice president of Data Solutions for Geotab, said its customers install Geotab devices in their vehicles and use data recorded by them to monitor their fleets, improve efficiency, productivity, compliance and safety. Bradley said Geotab uses its collected data to provide insights to customers, such as whether to recommend a better vehicle or to provide them with a better understanding of the world, such as amid the pandemic or weather-related event.

Regarding the data it has released on the pandemic, Geotab compiled the data so that it’s anonymous and compared six weeks of activity before March 16 to activity since then.

The data showed transportation activity to warehouses and retail stores declined between 20% and 30% since March 15, while transportation to grocery stores fell 10%.

Geotab also released transportation activity data for Arkansas and the state’s metropolitan statistical areas through mid-April.

As of April 13, the transportation activity in Arkansas was 85% of what it was before mid-March. The activity was similar in the Little Rock metro area at 84% but had dipped as low as 78% on April 3 and April 10.

For the Northwest Arkansas metro, the activity on April 13 was 93% of what it was before mid-March and was as low as 88% on March 24 and April 10.

On April 10 and April 13, the activity was the lowest in the Fort Smith metro at 78%, but the traffic from March 16-18 was 107% of what it was before March 16.

In the Jonesboro metro, the activity April 9 rose to 119% from what it was before mid-March before moderating to 98% as of April 13. The activity also rose to 116% on March 20 and was at 111% on April 6. When asked about the 119% spike, Bradley said it was an anomaly. When asked why there was a spike, Geotab declined to release information on this, citing privacy concerns for their customers in the area.

However, the activity in Arkansas and other parts of the central United States has been higher than in other U.S. regions, Bradley said, adding that it’s almost business as usual compared to the other regions.

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