Memorial Day is approaching, bringing with it the unofficial launch of the spring and summer travel season. While air travel is steadily increasing, a larger-than-average number of travelers are expected to travel by car due to the pandemic. State leaders are encouraging travelers to plan ahead, as the increased demand comes at a time fuel stations nationwide are grappling with delays in fuel delivery caused by an ongoing shortage of truck drivers.
“People are eager to travel, and because of the pandemic, we’re expecting to see a lot more folks making stops at gas stations. While fuel supplies are healthy, gas stations are sometimes seeing a delay in fuel deliveries, so we want people to be prepared in case they have to make a few stops,” said Elizabeth King, state energy emergency management director at the Washington State Department of Commerce.
King emphasizes the cybersecurity pipeline incident impacting fuel supplies in some states on the eastern side of the country is not impacting supplies in Washington state and is wholly separate from the delivery issue.
“Fuel supply is not an issue in our state. We’ve been experiencing delays in fuel deliveries for quite some time,” she said. “It’s the increased demand that is just now making the impact more visible to consumers.”
King says there are three things drivers can do to plan ahead:
- Before heading out, add an app to your smartphone that helps you quickly and easily find nearby gas stations. This can be especially helpful when stopping through an unfamiliar town or city.
- Don’t let your tank drop below a quarter tank. You may come across gas stations that are closed while they wait for their next fuel delivery, so be sure you don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t get yourself to another station for a refill.
- Be courteous and don’t buy more than you need. Fuel supplies are healthy and deliveries are on the way, so fill up your tank and then get back on the road to allow the driver waiting behind you do the same.
Sheri Call, executive vice president of the Washington Trucking Association, says the shortage of professional commercial truck drivers is due to drivers aging out and retiring in greater numbers than are coming into the industry.
“Beyond fuel deliveries, this is putting the continuity of the nation’s supply chain at risk,” Call said. “COVID-19 made the problem worse. The temporary closures of state motor vehicle offices and truck driver training schools decimated the already fragile pipeline of new drivers entering the workforce.”
Over 70 percent of the nation’s freight is carried by commercial trucks. In Washington state, 80 percent of communities depend exclusively on trucks to move their goods.
Call says companies are responding by raising driver pay and improving benefit programs to attract and retain drivers. She says this is an exciting time for anyone interested in entering the field. The industry is transitioning into a high-tech future with heavy-duty, zero-emission trucks soon to be available, and autonomous operations of commercial trucks that will likely need a new kind of operator behind the wheel. But drivers aren’t the only ones keeping goods moving on the road.
“The trucking industry has so many opportunities beyond professional driver,” said Call. “The industry employs one in 20 Washingtonians in a myriad of roles including compliance experts, safety and risk management experts, fleet maintenance, dispatch, sales, administrative and support staff. These folks are all instrumental in ensuring the safe and efficient movement of goods. It’s a great time to join our ranks.”