Since it officially became a pandemic, the long-term impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on fleet remains uncertain; however, one positive impact has been a surge in last-mile deliveries as entire states implement shelter-in-place mandates and people follow social distancing guidelines.
The term “last-mile” refers to the final stage in the delivery of products and goods from a local distribution center to customers, although the word “mile” is used loosely and can vary from dozens of miles to just a few blocks. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been an unprecedented spike in online orders. Last-mile delivery fleets were already the fastest growing fleet segment, but COVID-19 has been the catalyst triggering an even stronger surge in final-mile deliveries.
In addition, grocery and restaurant home deliveries have exploded due to social distancing concerns. In this environment, last-mile fleets offer a lifeline for the delivery of products and goods to those unable or unwilling to leave their homes.
Drivers on the Pandemic Frontlines
In reaction to the pandemic, last-mile delivery companies have implemented “contactless delivery” procedures by adopting new safety rules, supplying drivers with gloves and masks, and giving customers the option not to sign on delivery, but to have the driver sign instead.
But this hasn’t been the case consistently throughout the delivery industry. Many deliveries are done by independent subcontractors, who may not offer their drivers an adequate supply of sanitary products.
Plus, many of these subcontractors employ contract drivers, which further limits what they need to provide not only in the way of sanitary supplies, but also health insurance and sick time, which impacts driver morale as they work in environments with a higher risk of exposure to the virus. Just like the rest of us, drivers find it difficult to get sanitizer, gloves, and disinfectant wipes as panicked hoarders scoop up the entire inventories at retail outlets.
As the volume of last-mile deliveries skyrocket, there is heightened pressure to meet demanding delivery targets. The high volume of deliveries has encroached on the time needed to thoroughly deep clean vans before or after a daily delivery cycle. With many retail businesses closed, drivers are finding it difficult to find places along their routes to frequently wash their hands as recommended by health authorities.
Some drivers are concerned that they don’t have the basics to safely do their job. For instance, they complain about the lack of gloves, masks, hand sanitizers, and alcohol wipes, especially as they are involved with more customer interaction in opening gates, touching doorknob, and ringing doorbells. Plus, drivers are handling packages all day long, which potentially increases the possibility of virus transmission to customers and others. The COVID-19 virus can live on plastic for three days and cardboard for 24 hours.
I’ve heard stories of some consumers leaving delivered packages with non-perishable items in their garages for 72 hours before opening. There is also anxiety among some drivers. If they develop a cough; is it a cold or is it COVID-19? Since it is still difficult to get tested, it can potentially cause anxiety and mental distractions while driving.
Last-Mile Fleets Accumulate Hard Miles
E-commerce sales accounted for 11% of all retail sales in 2019. The tremendous growth in e-commerce has caused a fundamental shift in delivery logistics. Last-mile delivery companies are looking to better utilize their existing fleets with speedier and higher volume deliveries expanding to seven days a week by introducing Sunday deliveries, but this high utilization has increased stress on van maintenance. The last-mile driving patterns, which include stop-and-go driving, extended idling periods, and higher mileage takes a toll on the delivery vehicles. It is reported that about two-fifths of overall logistics costs are associated with the last-mile, which encourage fleets to consider alternative vehicle assets to deliver packages.
For instance, the on-the-road demands entailed in last-mile delivery have caused fleets to look to smaller, nimbler, and more fuel-efficient options. These vehicles offer better fuel economy, greater driver comfort, a tighter turning radius, and a variety of upfitting options tailored to specific fleet applications to increase productivity.
Whatever the final impact of the pandemic on fleet management, one legacy will be the creation of an expanded base of new customers comfortable with e-commerce transactions to be serviced by a growing number of final-mile delivery fleets.
This blog was originally posted on Heavy Duty Trucking.