A year into the COVID-19 pandemic and long-haul truckers are still among the very few people allowed to cross North American borders. While many industries have faced stops and starts with lockdowns, transport has kept on trucking – with some changes. Preeti Gill has been a long-haul trucker for three years. Free Press reporter Max Martin spoke with her during a quick stop at the Woodstock ONroute as she returned from Texas.
Perhaps the biggest challenge truckers face is finding a place to stop and rest.
"Because of the pandemic, so many rest areas are also closed," Gill said. "That is the major problem we are facing nowadays."
Sites that are open often have reduced hours, she said, "because of no business and nobody travelling."
At overnight truck stops, Gill said some have closed showers or are no longer giving out towels.
Gill spends five or six days a week on the road in the U.S., leaving off from a truckyard in Brampton.
The 37-year-old admits trucking is already a solitary profession, but she said that's made it easier to adjust to pandemic-induced isolation.
"Truck drivers, before the pandemic were isolated also, so I found there are no more changes," she said.
While her hauls have gone off as normal – with fewer people involved in the process – Gill said the most noticeable change in her daily routine is, like in many industries, enhanced cleaning.
"The biggest thing now, I have too many bottles of Lysol," she said. "Now I have to do door cleaning, it's more work to do."
On her day off, she spends her time at home in St. Catharines with her father and sister.
Gill just completed a route through Texas. Next, she's set to take a route to Orlando, Fla. – both states among those reporting the highest number of COVID-19 cases across the United States.
But from what Gill has seen, she said there's a noticeable difference between Canadian and American attitudes toward COVID-19 safety protocols.
"In the States, a little bit different ... people are stubborn there," she said. "They just say they don't want to wear the mask ... they don't follow the rules."
Nowadays, it's taking Gill longer to cross the border.
Although she said border officers have reduced the frequency of random checks to avoid unnecessary interactions, there's additional paperwork and checks and balances to be done.
Working commercial drivers are required to submit contact information, travel details and a personal health assessment, the Canadian Border Services Agency said.
Gill must also check-in when she arrives back in Canada through a mobile app.
"Whenever we enter, that's extra work we have to do," she said. "It's just more time-consuming."
In 2016, Canadian Census data showed there were only 5,880 female tractor-trailer drivers in the country, compared to 175,450 men.
"In the U.S., one guy told me, 'Oh, you are a woman, why are you driving?'" Gill recalled. "I said, 'Why, who told you only the men can drive the truck?'"
She said some companies initially hesitated to hire her as a trucker, fearing she'd struggle to load the truck – but Gill said she's just as capable.
"I've found on the road, women are safer than the men," as drivers, she said.
"We try to help fill the shelves," Gill said. "Due to trucking ... food supply and other essentials, like medication, sanitization is supplied."
Despite loving her trucking job, she's also studying online to become a nurse, all while on the road.
While she plans to go from one essential service to another, Gill said people underestimate the importance of trucking – especially during the pandemic.
Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press