Above the Fold: Supply Chain Logistics News (April 24, 2020)

Earlier this week, the teenage son of a family friend was killed in a car accident. J was my son’s friend, both of them high school seniors just weeks away from graduation.

To compound the tragedy, due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements, J’s extended family, friends, and community couldn’t come together to hug and console his parents and siblings in person. We had to do it like everything else these days: via Zoom.

There were more than 500 logins to the memorial service, representing probably 1,000 people. J’s parents and siblings, along with some of his close friends, shared some memories of him. They all commented on his ever-present smile, which is the first thing I always noticed whenever I saw him. 

One of the speakers was a girl who played on the football team with J freshman year. “I wasn’t a close friend of J,” she began, but she remembers sitting by herself outside the school while the rest of the freshman football team stood nearby chatting with each other (she was the only girl on the team). They were waiting for the team bus to take them to an away game. J noticed that she was by herself, so he went over and sat with her. He smiled and introduced himself. They talked and he made her laugh. He made her feel part of the team that day and for the rest of the season too. 

More than three years later, although they didn’t become close friends, she still remembers that day when a smiling boy sat next to her and said hello.

Her story about J (and everybody else’s memories about him) validated for me what the poet Maya Angelou famously said: people will never forget how you made them feel.

Social distancing is the extreme opposite of how J lived his life. I pray we don’t get too used to it. Too used to moving away when someone walks towards us. Too used to masking our faces, no smiles, no hellos, no stopping to share a moment together.

I pray we return to living like J lived, making a difference in people’s lives, friends and strangers alike, with simple acts of kindness and a smile.

May his memory be a blessing.


In this week’s supply chain and logistics news…

Predicting the Transportation Market 

If you ask 100 people what will happen with trucking rates and capacity in the weeks and months ahead, you will get 101 different answers (one person will always hedge and give two opposite predictions). Things will either start to improve in the second half of the year, stay the same as now, or get even worse. Like everything related to COVID-19, nobody really knows, which is why planning for anything is nearly impossible.

The only thing we know for sure is what’s happening now. “For America’s Small Truckers, Demand Is ‘Falling Off a Cliff’” reads one headline in the Wall Street Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

“There’s no freight, no freight at all,” said Mr. Singh, the owner of Sam Trucking LLC.

Loads that would have paid $1,000 last month, when a rush to restock grocery stores briefly lifted business, now fetch $300 or less, he said. That isn’t enough to cover the pay for drivers, fuel and other costs for his seven-truck fleet which is now sitting parked.

“Nobody can survive six months like this,” Mr. Singh said. “How can I pay my guys, the payments on trucks, the insurance?”

One economist sees many small trucking companies and owner-operators exiting the market, either by choice or circumstance, leading to tighter capacity and rising rates later in the year. That’s certainly one possibility out of many.

Other transportation modes are also experiencing significant downturns. The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported that “total carloads for the week ending April 18, 2020 was down 27.5 percent compared with the same week in 2019, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was down 19.1 percent compared to 2019. For the first 16 weeks of 2020, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,592,286 carloads, down 9.5 percent from the same point last year.”

In response, “CSX Corp. and Union Pacific Corp. have taken hundreds of locomotives offline in recent weeks, reduced the number of trains being run to better align with plunging demand and sent workers home,” as reported by Paul Ziobro in the Wall Street Journal. Here’s more from the article:

Both railroads withdrew most of their forecasts for the year, as the duration of the downturn remains unclear.

“Our collective belief at this point is it’s sharp and deep,” [Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz]  said. “It’s going to last for a while, and recovery is going to be some kind of ramp but probably not terribly steep.”

Maybe they’re right. Maybe they’re wrong. Who really knows?

BluJay and Uber Freight: TMS + Digital Freight 

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a number of partnerships between transportation management system (TMS) providers and digital freight networks. The latest example is BluJay Solutions (a Talking Logistics sponsor), which announced a partnership with Uber Freight this week. Here are some details from the press release:

Uber Freight integrates directly with the BluJay platform to power instant quotes, booking, and carrier matching. The integration allows businesses that use BluJay’s Transportation Management application in North America and soon, Europe, to tap into Uber Freight’s pricing insights and vast network of over 50,000 carriers. The API-based integration can be turned on within hours for shippers, allowing for fast access to end-to-end supply chain visibility.

“For many BluJay customers, right now it’s more crucial than ever that their products make it to grocery shelves on time,” said Bill Madden, VP of Managed Transportation Services (MTS) at BluJay. “We have been successful in our ability to rapidly and accurately execute on behalf of our customers, and have leveraged solid support through BluJay’s Uber Freight API integration. For example, we were able to stand up the platform and push the first load tender all inside of a single business day for one of our food manufacturer shippers. We’re seeing early adoption across both our managed customers and our TMS shippers, all with the same goal of making the right decisions quickly to keep freight moving through the supply chain.”

Digital freight, along with real-time freight visibility solutions, are expanding and enhancing the value proposition of transportation management systems — and putting those companies still not using a TMS further behind the competition.

And with that, have a happy weekend.

Song of the Week: “Show Me What I’m Looking For” by Carolina Liar