There are three key items that will affect the transportation industry in 2021.
The most obvious is the coronavirus – namely the effectiveness of the vaccines and the efficiency of the vaccine roll out. Logistically, distributing the vaccine is extremely complicated and problematic and we are seeing that in the initial distribution efforts.
This virus has affected so many aspects of our world and how we function within the trucking industry. The primary issue for 2021 is resolving COVID-19. My expectation is that sometime in the course of the year, our country and the world will normalize. Certainly, that is my fervent hope, but I do not expect that to happen until the third or fourth quarter. However, there is no certainty on that timing.
The second area, while not necessarily a corollary, is certainly related to the virus. And that is the economy. Unemployment was extraordinarily high in 2020 and that has continued in the new year. This effects consumer confidence and purchasing behavior. The travel and hospitality industries — and the ancillary businesses that support those industries — have been devastated. At the same time, other industries – like residential remodeling and home improvement – have benefitted from people accelerating home improvement projects. As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
While there are too many variables to predict when the economy will improve, if people go back to work and if restrictions on activities are lifted, I believe the floodgates will open as all of us are more than ready to return to normal levels of activity.
The transportation industry has always provided a great number of jobs and as the economy gets stronger there will be a need for drivers, technicians, dispatchers and transportation managers. If the economy grows significantly, the need for people in transportation will experience a natural outgrowth from that event. As the economy and businesses expand, the transportation industry will do likewise and more jobs will become available.
The third area is also a meaningful one, and that is regulatory activity. We are coming out of an administration that has been driven to deregulate while the new administration believes more strongly in regulatory guidance and statutes. The trucking industry is highly regulated by agencies like the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to name a few.
I think there is likely to be an increase in regulatory activity. I am not suggesting that this is necessarily a good or bad thing, but it certainly will impact the trucking industry. There will probably also be some impact in the labor market as well as we could see changes in the National Labor Relations Board.
One final thought, I hope that 2021 is a year that restores the health to the U.S. and the world, our economy and people’s psyches.
Dennis Schneider is President of Transervice Logistics Inc. He joined the company in 1972 in an entry-level position and acquired the organization in 1985. Schneider is a life-long New Yorker and holds a BA and MS in education/history. He taught in the New York City school system for three years prior to joining Transervice.