For truckers across the United States, major change is just around the corner
The Petro Travel Center on Interstate 10 in Ontario, California is one of many across the country. At the front of the building are the things travelers see when they stop for gas or snacks: a convenience store, restrooms, and food options.
But for truckers, Petro is a haven.
An entrance opens to kiosks and services aimed directly at those working from the cab of a large truck. There are showers, a driving lounge, a gym and laundry facilities. A well-lit game area includes arcade machines and a pool table. Outside the stop there is a chapel in a trailer.
“For the next 34 hours, I’ll be doing the laundry, catching up on some reading, taking a shower, like what anyone else would do if they were home for the weekend,” said Bryan Tyson Galbreath, 41, of Corpus Christi. , Texas, said. “I’m a long way from home, but this truck is technically my home.”
Mr. Galbreath is one of at least 550,000 long-haul truck drivers in the United States, supporting an industry that has been hailed as indispensable during the pandemic, even while facing a severe shortage of drivers. This shortage coincided with supply chain issues, which increased the pressure on drivers to reach their destinations on time.
The industry is also on the verge of a huge change. The driver shortage is reshaping the workforce as the specter of self-driving trucks increasingly threatens to transform the way work is done. Self-driving trucks are currently being tested and are seen as the future for shipping all kinds of goods across the country.
As trucking evolves, the patchwork of companies across the United States that exist to support the industry are at risk of disappearing.
There are no numbers on how many people work in the various professions that support the trucking industry, but it takes an army of truck washers, gas station cashiers and custodial staff to help drivers and their cargo to get from point A to point B.
Understanding the supply chain crisis
The restrictions control driving time, down to the minute, which is why Mr Galbreath spends 34 hours in the truck stop‘s orbit.
Due to the dangers associated with having exhausted drivers behind the wheel, various federal rules have come into effect since the 1930s. The current set of rules, enacted in 2013, are complicated. Depending on their company‘s hours of operation, truckers are allowed to drive a maximum of 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. Thus, drivers on these schedules can reset their time with so-called reset breaks. These 34-hour rest periods are often spent at truck stops.
“If you’re at a truck stop, you’re pretty much stuck there,” Mr Galbreath said.
In parking areas, drivers place their trucks in tight rows. Their cabins function as kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms and offices. At night, drivers can be seen through their windshields – eating dinner or reclining in their bunks, bathed in the light of a Nintendo Switch or FaceTime call.
Small truck stops have only a few parking spaces. In contrast, the Iowa 80 truck stop, in Walcott, Iowa, bills itself as the largest truck stop in the world and has 900 of them. Across the country, entire temporary towns are forming and scattering daily.
“Everyone has different stories,” Elaine Peralta said of truckers passing by her lounge inside the TA Travel Center in Barstow, California. “There’s a lot of couples driving. There’s a lot of college students driving. Young people driving, and they’re doing their schoolwork, if they’re in college, in the truck. Lots of different ages.
A common complaint among truckers is the quality of the food. With the exception of casual restaurants, food trucks or independent restaurants, fast food is the most readily available fare, with restaurants like Carl’s Jr, Wendy’s and Taco Bell dominating the truck stop market.
“I would like to see a little more variety and not just fast food,” said Angela Eudey, 42, of Bakersfield, Calif., who tries to avoid it and stock up on groceries before heading out. take the road. “I have a refrigerator, so I buy food every week,” she said. “Mostly fresh fruits, vegetables, yogurts, meatloaf.”
“I’m trying to be healthy,” the truck driver said.
Being healthy isn’t easy, however. With long hours behind the wheel and a lack of nutritious food options, truckers face a variety of challenges. Various studies have found that truck drivers have higher than usual rates of obesity, diabetes, back problems and depression, and long-distance drivers are more likely to smoke.
How the Supply Chain Crisis Unfolded
The pandemic triggered the problem. The highly complex and interconnected global supply chain is in upheaval. Much of the crisis can be traced to the Covid-19 outbreak, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt in production. Here’s what happened next:
Another problem presented by truck stop food is cost. In 2021, the average annual salary for a truck driver was $50,340 — a significant drop from 1980, when the average salary was $110,000 after adjusting for inflation, an analysis has found. Pay can be especially low for new drivers or independent contractors, as they may be responsible for costs such as training fees, maintenance, and fuel.
“Everything is expensive,” said 36-year-old Miami-based Anthony Johnson. “And I don’t get paid that much to keep buying food from restaurants. And Uber Eats is worse. I constantly spend $30 on things that cost $9.
During a stop in Barstow, Calif., truckers grilled tri-tip, burgers and sausages on a portable grill in the parking lot. “If you go and eat at the truck stop three meals a day, it will cost you between $75 and $100,” said Bobby Parkman, 59, a truck driver from Center Rutland, Vermont. “It’s much better.”
Truckers are not always able to get to truck stops or rest areas when not working.
The United States is in dire need of truck parking spaces. According to the American Trucking Associations, more than 98% of truckers reported having difficulty finding safe parking. If no space is available in designated areas, truckers must improvise, spending their nights sleeping in potentially dangerous or illegal locations, such as vacant lots or freeway ramps.
For truckers, a good night’s sleep is essential. Driving a truck is incredibly dangerous and tired drivers make the problem worse. In 2020, 4,842 large trucks were involved in fatal accidents and 107,000 in accidents resulting in injury. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, fatigue is a factor in approximately 13% of truck crashes.
“I often couldn’t find a space,” said Mr Galbreath, who sometimes had to sleep on the side of the highway due to the lack of parking spaces. “You have vehicles going down the highway at 65, 70 miles an hour.”
He continued, “You can feel them when they run next to you, rocking the truck. You’re not going to get a good night’s rest doing this.
Yet, as truckers have adapted to the growing difficulties on the road, the problems ahead seem more transformational.
If driverless trucks are the future of America’s highways, the industry surrounding truckers is likely to overtake other once-essential, now-forgotten support industries, like the companies that once served cities across the gold rush, mining towns or Route 66 motorists.
“That’s all I really want to do,” said Kevin Ransom, 46, who has been driving for 22 years. “I tried to weld. I did carpentry work. I’ve done a variety of manual labor, working in factories, and that doesn’t interest me. So I don’t know what else I could do.
He added that he hoped it would be another 20 years before automation affected his work. “At that time, he said, I will be retired.