Normally taken for granted, B.C. truckers now in the spotlight

Pitt Meadows Protrux owner Darren Racine says there’s a silver-lining to trucking during COVID-19

Protrux co-owner Darren Racine. (Protrux image)

Protrux co-owner Darren Racine. (Protrux image)

They’re often taken for granted, but all hours of night and into early morning, B.C. truckers are behind the wheel serving as a lifeline to communities in every corner of the province.

For decades, they have been on the road, quietly providing an essential service. But now, B.C. truckers have moved into the spotlight, with many residents finding a new appreciation for the service they provide.

One might naively think that business is booming for the commercial transportation industry. However, truckers have also felt the sting of COVID-19.

Stay-at-home recommendations and physical distancing measures have temporarily closed hundreds of non-essential businesses in the province. The reduced commerce means less products need to be moved, said Protrux co-owner Darren Racine.

RELATED: ‘Business as usual’: B.C. truckers crossing U.S. border despite COVID-19

“The biggest change is the slowdown, right, we’re at 30 per cent less capacity currently. We laid off a few guys, not too dramatic, but it’s noticeable. That right off the bat is the biggest thing,” Racine said, who sits in the BC Trucking Association board of directors, representing 12,000 fleets from 400 trucking companies across the province.

Protrux, based in Pitt Meadows, conducts deliveries in Washington, Oregon, Vancouver Island, and the Lower Mainland.

“The biggest slowdown has been the U.S. side. And then, locally, it’s just been a little bit here and there, it all adds up,” Racine said, adding that they’ve had “no issues whatsoever” crossing the U.S. border for business.

Protrux doesn’t deliver medical supplies or groceries.

“If you’re one of those two, I’m guessing you’re going to be pretty busy,” he said. “Certain things like Home Depot and Rona… we deliver to both. Those sectors are busy. But your general building sectors like Dick’s and Standard, and stuff, are a little bit quiet.”

However, he said, there has been a silver lining to the COVID-19 situation.

Not only has the general public showed appreciation for the job truckers do, but some of their clients have taken steps to make this stressful time a bit more bearable.

“Some of them don’t allow you to use the washroom, that’s probably the biggest complaint I hear. On the flip side of that, some clients say don’t use the washroom, but they put out three or four Porta Potties.”

“There’s both sides of that equation.”

Racine added that some clients request Protrux drivers call when they arrive for a pickup and ask that they not leave their truck.

It’s the first time, in his memory, that media and even general public have picked up on the importance the trucking industry has to the community.

It’s an industry, he said, that’s taken for granted.

“One hundred per cent it is. I think that’s the biggest challenge. My biggest thing is let’s not forget about this. In three months from now, six months from now, a year, whatever it is. All the same guys are still going to be out there working. All of the same guys are going to be delivering the same product now, but it’ll all be forgotten” he said.

“It’s an essential service, it really is, and I think it goes unnoticed. It’s nice for it to be noticed.”

RELATED: B.C. adds highway washrooms for truck drivers

This month, the B.C. government announced it’s adding portable toilets to provincial highway stops to help transport truck drivers continue to stock food, fuel, and other necessary goods to communities around the province.

About 20 portable toilets have been installed at commercial pull-outs and inspection stations since the operation began on the Easter weekend, the transportation ministry said April 15. More are coming, with 55 brake checks and 39 chain areas around the province.

The B.C. Trucking Association has pitched in with a food truck project, offering free meals for truckers at cardlock fuel stations in Chilliwack, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Prince George.

For residents, there are a few things they can do to thank truckers, and one is to give them some extra space on the road.

“That would be awesome, not cut us off,” Racine laughed.

– with files from Tom Fletcher

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