Towing in Uncertain Times

What started out as the punchline to a joke about beer has turned into a global pandemic and COVID-19 is no longer a laughing matter.

by Sarah Bruce

Originally published in Tow Canada, May-June 2020

If towers stopped towing, a city would become gridlocked within 24 hours, WreckMaster instructor Bruce Campbell  once said during a WreckMaster Level 2/3 course. With roads impassable, it would only take a couple of days for it to become difficult to transport food, fuels and supplies, and first-responder vehicles would not be able to respond to emergencies. He said this to illustrate what an essential role tow operators play in everyday life.

Back then it seemed like only speculation. Why would towers ever stop towing? As many will say, “it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.” But that was before COVID-19 affected the lives of millions of Canadians and nearly every tow operator out there.

Remember when the Titanic was sinking and the band continued to play? Well, that’s us.”

“Do you want to know how it feels to be a tow truck operator during the COVID-19 pandemic?” Dan Beaumont of Bayview Towing asked. “Remember when the Titanic was sinking and the band continued to play? Well, that’s us.”

“Everyone I’ve spoken to, including myself, has been affected by this pandemic,” said Kody St. Amour of Steve’s Towing. “Most guys I know just stopped coming to work either because of fear or due to the fact there’s no money on the road right now. Our rush hours now look like Sunday afternoons.”

It has become painfully evident that towers across the country have had similar experiences.

“To be honest,” Dan said, when asked how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting him, “we have had to cut down our staff and we’ve gone from ten drivers a day to three. The calls are getting fewer.” Fortunately, for Bayview Towing, their equipment division is still flourishing with four operators. “As long as construction keeps going we will keep the wheels turning but it is definitely a difficult time for our industry right now.” Situated two minutes from the American border, Bayview Towing often tows vehicles back and forth between Canada and the United States, but ever since the border shut down, they have had to halt cross-border towing.

“We have eliminated all customer contact,” said Dan, explaining how they no longer accept passengers in their tow trucks. “And we have locked down our office to non-essential staff. At least, all of the auto clubs we deal with are very supportive of our safety. They inform their members that we can’t transport them, only their cars, and for the most part people are very understanding.”

Since mid-March, when social distancing first came into effect, towing companies everywhere have reported a decrease in business. As provincial and federal governments initiated new COVID-19 policies, non-essential businesses were asked to close their doors, employees everywhere were laid off, and those who could were encouraged to work from home. Without jobs to go to or stores to shop at,  there has been a significant drop in traffic on the roads,  fewer accidents and less work for tow operators.

As a result, many towing businesses were forced to send their dispatchers to work from home, if possible, and lay off those they could not find work for. These are never easy decisions for a business owner to make, especially those as passionate as many tow operators are. Read Paul Blackwell’s article, The Hardest Decisions for a manager’s perspective.

It is April now and things are quiet on the roads. There is still no end in sight as every day the number of those infected or dying of COVID-19 increases. Hopefully, by the time this magazine is in your hands, we have at last seen the curve flatten, which would mean more accurate predictions can be made for when the country can go back to work. At this time, Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer for British Columbia, predicts that might not be until July, but only time will tell.

So what can you do?

Both the federal and provincial governments are working hard to help small and medium-sized businesses going through these unprecedented economic uncertainties. Every day the information coming out is changing so your best bet is to check websites such as ara.bc.ca, which publishes daily government announcements and how they affect the automotive industry. The Automotive Retailers Association (ARA), the association representing tow operators in B.C., is available should you have any questions regarding operations during COVID-19. If they don’t already know the answer to your question, they will do their best to get it for you.

It can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but there is one there, even if we cannot see it yet. Towers will know this better than most: that even when a recovery looks like a total mess, you just have to look at it from a different angle. 

It is only a matter of time before the rolling resistance of this crisis is calculated and everyone can get back on the road. In the meantime, use this time to work on your trucks and bring them back to glory or go online to WreckMaster.com, which is offering online courses to upgrade your skills.

Good luck out there, and stay safe. 

Tips to Prevent Spread of COVID-19

  1. If you feel sick at all now is not the time to be your usual stoic self, stay at home!
  2. It sounds redundant but wash your hands as often as possible. Washing and sanitizing your hands can prevent COVID-19 even if you have come into contact with it.
  3. If you do not have time to wash and sanitize your hands, DO NOT touch your face. The virus gets picked up when you touch things and by touching your nose, eyes, or mouth, it can get into your body and infect you.
  4. Use gloves when handling a customer’s vehicle or surface that has not been sanitized (as the virus can live on surfaces for three hours to three days). But DO NOT touch your face while using gloves  (see tip three!)
  5. Keep your hands to yourself! Still be friendly and smile (because everyone out there is just a little bit on edge right now) but do not shake hands or lend a customer a phone, pen, etc.
  6. If possible, arrange alternate transportation for the customer rather than letting them ride in the cab with you. And if not possible, get creative, like Kody St. Amour from Steve’s Towing, who put up a temporary germ barrier between his front and back seats.
  7. Limit exposure to other people as much as possible. Practice social distancing and use common sense. We are all in this together.

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