How Will COVID-19 Affect the Fleet Industry Moving Forward?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 officially reached pandemic status on March 11, 2020. Fleet managers have been introduced to new challenges thanks to the pandemic, from how to deal with stay-at-home orders and new cleanliness regulations, to being short-staffed after workers self-quarantine and being forced to find new ways to get work done at home.
For an industry that relies on efficient movement and transportation, COVID-19 is an encumbrance. But for better or worse, the fleet industry’s landscape is drastically different than previous. Whilst we’re all eager to put the pandemic behind us, it’s important to consider which new policies and fleet management trends are here to stay, and which are sure to change.
How has COVID-19 affected the fleet industry in the past?
The beginning of the pandemic was marked by the grounding of much of America’s trucking industry. Vehicles sat idly by in lots for several months before it came time to get back to work. Unfortunately, the process of shaking the rust off and getting back on the road wasn’t so cut and dry – as a new compliance landscape had begun to form and be put in place during the partial-shutdown.
If fleet managers wanted to avoid violations and fines, as well as ensure safety and efficiency, they had to follow guidance on everything from remaining socially distanced during roadside assistance calls, to sanitizing the cab and wearing personal protective gear. Following the steps necessary to stay safe proved to be expensive, whether it was the extra cost of the equipment and cleaning materials, or the fines if all organization members didn’t follow the regulations put in place. It gets especially sticky when companies’ budgets are under strain when margins are thing, you’ve not had as much work and the added uncertainty with insurance, licensing and taxes.
To make matters worse, a halt of production by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) led to a shortage of vehicles and parts. Even if you were lucky enough to get your new vehicle(s), it was difficult to get them registered because all of the DMV offices were closed or operating on an appointment-only basis.
What are some of the new policies coming out of the pandemic?
If the pandemic did anything, it made fleet professionals take a hard look at their sanitation policies already in place, and which of their current policies needed improvement. The new policies reflect the realities of living through a pandemic. Especially for the fleet managers whose job it was to establish such procedures needed to lower potential infections between drivers and the people they interact with. Not just for the safety of their employees, but customers as well.
Many drivers share their vehicles. But now more than ever before, there have to be cleanliness standards in place and a way to ensure they’ve been met in between shifts. This means that expenditures likely will increase, as the cost of sanitizing a vehicle can range from $50 to $200. There’s also the cost of personal protective equipment for the people sanitizing the each vehicle in an organization’s fleet.
Reducing contact between people, even if temporary, is absolutely crucial for fleets right now. To keep with social distancing regulations, the number of people allowed in cabs is restricted, which might prove difficult for managers sorting out the logistics of getting personnel where they need to be, and when they need to be there. Lucky for us (as lucky as can be), it’s easier now than it ever has been to work from home. Working and communicating online is easier than ever, and now more fleets are pivoting positions that can do to a work-from-home environment. This means less time on the road for some and more time in front of the computer, cutting back on fuel costs and potential safety incidents.
This is a time for implementing and communicating new standards, and an opportunity to create some lasting changes – whether it’s with updated sanitation policies or even operational strategy. Perhaps you could consider right-sizing your fleet or even benchmarking your fleet’s operations. You can then identify spare vehicles that can work in rotation as needed, or dispose of under-utilized equipment.
What can fleet managers look forward to once COVID is in the rearview?
One of the upsides of getting through 2020 is that a lot of groundwork has been laid for meaningful changes throughout the industry. With vaccine distribution ramping up faster and faster each day, many are wondering if all of the new policies be let go. It’s unlikely. With or without COVID, the new sanitation policies are good for the overall health of drivers. Even if organizations don’t keep all of them in place, it’ll mean a healthier, cleaner workplace for all positions involved.
On the flip-side, for organizations that won’t return fully to in-person work – working remotely is here to stay. Especially with a younger generation of drivers and administrators used to the digital space taking the wheel. The benefits of safely working from home are self-explanatory, and will encourage the adaptation of digital technology and telematics strategies to manage drivers.
The fleet industry will continue to evolve, long after COVID-19 is in our rearview mirror. The key though, is how. And that is something we will continue to monitor as time goes on. And of course, you’ll be kept in the loop.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Utilimarc can help you make the most of your data and help you stay on top of industry trends, schedule a live demo with our analytics team.