- The decline in freight traffic caused by the COVID-19 crisis has been sharpest in Michigan, with a 37% drop, according to Bob Pishue, Inrix transportation analyst. Freight traffic is down 13% in the United States, according to Pishue's study. The impact was greater on passenger traffic, which dove by 46%.
- The shutdown of major industrial centers and their suppliers in Michigan caused substantially less traffic all the way down through Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas, Inrix officials said during a webinar on Tuesday. Pishue said the Southern states along the Gulf of Mexico also got hit by a "double whammy" caused by a slowdown in oil production and processing. The Southern Gulf region had the largest decline of any region, with a drop of 20% in freight traffic, he said. The Western and Rocky Mountain states saw 6% less freight traffic, and the Northeast had a drop of 9%.
- Freight-heavy corridors in urban areas have seen speed increases, moving goods faster, Inrix officials said. The report, "COVID-19’s Impact on Freight: An Analysis of Long-Haul Freight Movement During a Pandemic," analyzed vehicle-miles traveled (VMT), gathered from billions of anonymous data points. The report used a March 14 baseline, when no state-wide, stay-at-home orders were present.
The trucking industry was already facing a "tsunami" of disruptive changes, David Schaller, industry engagement director for the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE), said during the webinar. The changes included autonomous trucking, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) mandate on shipping fuel and more. Then came COVID-19, which temporarily has hidden those challenges as major industrial users shut down.
Schaller said the corridor from Michigan to Texas has the lion's share of North America's 88 automotive assembly plants and their 1,000 suppliers, the latter of which have at least 500 employees. Shutting them down temporarily caused major freight changes in the central part of the United States.
But it was the Southern Gulf states, with petrochemical complexes and ports, which got the worst regional brunt. The region saw about 17% less freight VMT. The Midwest saw a freight VMT decrease of 13%.
"Some freight is very strong," said Schaller. "If you're in the grocery industry, certain medical aspects, essential supplies, you are putting in extra hours."
But some freight is flat or "just flat gone," such as in automotive, Schaller said. Brick-and-mortar retail stores don't need shipments, and fuel-related businesses have reduced needs.
Even consumer-related freight had early hiccups, Schaller noted. As pandemic panic buying started in March, goods for dormitories, restaurants, office buildings and other complexes were not ready to be shipped to consumers directly, and were not ready to go to groceries. Schaller said toilet paper was usually shipped in big boxes, with tissue rolls individually wrapped, to dorms and restaurants and could not be easily switched to needs of individual consumers.
Inrix previously reported the decrease in overall traffic congestion, finding passenger traffic was down 46% nationwide. Commuters staying home has led to trucks zipping through once-congested areas faster. Inrix said about 95% of U.S. residents live in a "stay-at-home area."