J.B. Hunt evaluates priorities amid COVID-19, trucking groups release new research

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 2,258 views 

Lowell-based carrier J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. continues to develop its digital freight platform J.B. Hunt 360 as the COVID-19 pandemic has made the company evaluate its priorities, a company executive said.

Meanwhile, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the nonprofit research organization for the American Trucking Associations, and the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) Foundation released Tuesday (May 5) research showing the impacts of the pandemic on trucking operations, including deliveries, travel times, detention and truck parking. They also gave guidance on response strategies in the event of another national disaster.

“The trucking industry has weathered national disasters in the past and is doing so again through the current COVID crisis,” said Rebecca Brewster, president and chief operating officer for ATRI. “However, this latest data quantifies the challenges motor carriers and drivers are facing during this pandemic to keep essential goods moving.”

Following are some of the findings in the research:

  • Long-haul trips have fallen as container imports at ports have decreased, while trips under 100 miles have risen more than 100%.
  • Truck traffic has risen for freight related to medical devices, perishable foods and paper products, and nearly 50% of respondents said freight levels were somewhat or much lower as a result of COVID-19.
  • More than 40% of respondents said truck parking was not any worse amid the pandemic, while larger fleets noted parking was more difficult to find.
  • Nearly 80% of owner-operators and small fleets don’t have any plan in place for managing operations during natural disasters.
  • The trucking industry has a favorable attitude toward state and federal responses, policies and programs set up to address the pandemic, with the federal response viewed as more favorable than the state responses.
  • The industry’s perceptions are slightly pessimistic regarding the U.S. economy over the next several months in terms of freight movement and consumer spending.

“This research puts solid numbers to what we otherwise only suspected,” said Andrew King, research analyst for the OOIDA Foundation. “While we may be turning the corner on the COVID pandemic, we’re not out of the economic woods yet.”

Link here for the research.

J.B. Hunt is focused on its employees and their safety and those they interact with and meeting its customer commitments, said Shelley Simpson, chief commercial officer and president of highway services for J.B. Hunt. Simpson was a keynote speaker Tuesday for the FreightWaves Live conference that became a virtual conference as a result of the pandemic.

Simpson highlighted the company’s recent technology partnership and advancements, both related to J.B. Hunt 360, and the continued effort to improve efficiency in the transportation sector.

She looked to collaborating with others, including competitors, on solving problems amid the pandemic that’s challenging the industry to think differently. Simpson considered achieving real-time visibility and how the industry can come together and share information such as visibility data.

J.B. Hunt announced Dec. 9 a deal with Blue Yonder, formerly JDA Software Inc., to integrate its technology with J.B. Hunt 360 to improve pricing visibility and access to available capacity.

On May 1, J.B. Hunt launched an electronic bill of lading feature to allow businesses and carriers to digitally sign bills of lading and reduce contact during delivery.

Shelley Simpson

Simpson also spoke about this and other technology, including planning capacity in the spot market.

“Some 30% of shipments that are moving today are moving with a carrier that was not planned at a price that’s not planned,” she said. “What if we were able to connect those pieces and connect via real-time so that they actually could get the most efficient way to move those goods.

“What’s happening in the spot market is the dislocation of capacity is the real issue,” she added. “We don’t have real-time access to where the shipments are at and where the capacity is at so that we could overlay those two together and get the best capacity, price and service. Those are the changes we’re thinking about, working very closely with our customers.”

In April, dry-van rates fell to the lowest level since September 2016, and were down 9.1% from the same month in 2019, according to DAT Solutions. Load-to-truck ratios fell to “historic lows,” according to DAT, but volumes started to rise over the past week as freight markets entered the produce season and some states are starting to ease stay-at-home orders.

Simpson noted that every carrier that she’s spoken to wants to eliminate old processes, including making phone calls, negotiating prices and trying to find out if a load is ready.

“All that can be streamlined right with technology,” she said. “And as we move into our new environment, whatever that is for us, we will start to think together how we meet the promises of our customers will largely come down to this: Are you willing to disrupt the way you’ve always done business so that you can adapt internally and externally with your customers to further accelerate yourselves in this new way of doing business.”