Avjinder Mangat has been trying to sell one of his trucks on the online classifieds portal Kijiji for weeks.
Just a couple of hundred people viewed the advertisement, and only one responded.
“He offered me a really low, low price. At that price, it’s not worth selling the truck,” Mangat said.
An owner-operator since 2010, he was hoping to get rid of his 2007 Freightliner Columbia so that he can meet some of his expenses.
All of Mangat’s three trucks are currently parked amid a slump in demand for general freight because of Covid-19 closures.
Mangat, however, is in a relatively good position as all of his trucks have been paid off.
Anil Raveendran has no such comfort because he has to make monthly payments, totaling $12,000.
Just one of his five trucks is on the road now. The rest are sitting on a parking lot in Mississauga, Ont.
“I can manage for one month, but I don’t know what will happen after that,” Raveendran said in an interview.
He said those owner-operators who bought trucks with the minimum payment of 5% would face a bigger problem.
The federal government has unveiled stimulus measures worth almost $150 billion in direct support alone. That includes tax deferrals, interest-free loans, and a 75% wage subsidy for small- and medium-sized companies to avert layoffs.
Raveendran has reached out to the companies which financed his vehicle purchases to discuss possible deferral of payments.
“There are many requirements. One of them is a letter from the company my drivers and I work for, confirming that there is no work due to Covid-19.”
He said that is problematic, because companies may not be willing to issue such documents as that could affect their reputation.
Raveendran is optimistic, though, that the coronavirus crisis will be over soon, and businesses will be back to normal.
“Then there will be a boom,” he predicted.
Another owner-operator worried about the crisis is Muhammed Umer.
“I don’t know how long this thing is going to last… I have a mortgage to pay,” he said.
Umer, who on average makes 10 runs a month from Mississauga to Chicago, Ill., said March had been good.
“But I don’t know what will happen this month and next. We are coming back empty from Chicago these days.”
Like Raveendran, he is also facing problems in obtaining documentation to apply for debt relief, Umer said.
Jasvir Singh Maan, an owner-operator since 1998, has seen a fall in both the waste-hauling runs he makes and the rates the company pays per trip since Covid-19 struck.
His income has fallen, but as of now, he has no plans to apply for government loans or any other aid.
“I have never felt the need in the past,” Maan said.
But he said he would certainly welcome a reduction in high insurance premiums, which many truckers say have become unaffordable.
While Maan is quite happy to follow social distancing protocols, he finds it rather odd when technicians ask him to stay in the cab when fixing a flat tire.
Maan is also the proud father of two frontline workers, a doctor and a nurse.
In late March, the Canadian insurance industry said owner-operators will not lose coverage when entering the U.S.
Broker Puja Gupta’s phone has been ringing off the hook since that announcement, with many drivers seeking clarification.
“I have been receiving lots of queries regarding the eligibility of their life and health insurance coverage across the border and out of province,” Gupta said in an email.
She said many drivers are worried about expenses such as premiums and lease payments.
Insurance companies are offering deferrals, but with no loads, payments even at a later date would not be easy, Gupta said.
“Many truckers have parked their units and removed road coverage. This trend is also seen in their personal vehicles as families are confined to homes,” she added.
Learners in limbo
Schools providing commercial driver training have also been hit hard.
Although they can remain open during the fight against the pandemic, school owners say it is not possible to operate under present circumstances, with social distancing being the norm.
That means hundreds of students enrolled in learning schools across the province are in limbo.
“There are some students who quit their jobs in order to pursue a trucking career,” said Raj Walia, president of Trukademy, a training school based in Mississauga.
“I really feel for the students… They were learning it, and suddenly the schools are shut down.”
He said Trukademy had 15 students at the time of the closure.
All DriveTest centers, which have been providing driver examination services, are also closed.
Jay Pootha, founder of Jay’s Professional Truck Training Centre in Scarborough, Ont., said some 60 students and 10 staff have been affected by the closure of his school.
Pootha said talks are underway with the Ministry of Transportation and the operator of DriveTest centers on safety measures that could allow the resumption of road tests.
He said they were discussing installation of in-cab safety barriers such as plexiglass between the student and examiner/instructor.
“The closure is having a heavy financial impact on us. I hope this thing will be over soon,” Pootha said.
Towing business tanks
Another business that has been badly affected by the economic downturn is commercial towing.
“The business is down 70% because the number of trucks on the roads are down,” said Jassi Sarai, owner of SD Towing of Mississauga.
Of the 12 trucks the company has, only two are in service on any given day now, he said.
On the brighter side, accidents are down too, and Sarai was quick to attribute that to a sharp decline in the number of cars on the highways as most people work from home.
“There is a message here, and that is most accidents are actually caused by the smaller vehicles, and not trucks,” he said.
“People always think it is the bigger unit that causes the crashes.”
Although truck repair shops fall under the essential-business category, some are operating reduced hours, or on only on an emergency basis.
“Our shop is not open to the public right now,” said Surjit Johal, owner of Diesel Truck Centre in Mississauga.
“We are following public health guidelines on this. We want to make sure that everybody’s safe,” he said.
By Abdul Latheef