(The Center Square)- Truck and other commercial drivers are facing delays at North Carolina's Division of Motor Vehicles, putting jobs and a lifeline for many on standby.
Jeffery Burkhardt owns schools in Fayetteville, Jacksonville and Raleigh with Commercial Driver License (CDL) training programs.
Many of the students have had to wait additional weeks to get behind the wheel because of a flawed appointment booking system, he said. Several have remained unemployed while waiting through the prolonged process.
CDLs are required for drivers to transport property and passengers. Before the pandemic, the trucking industry was facing a shortage, according to industry reports.
About 1.9 million people were employed in the heavy and tractor-trailer driving industry in 2019, including 51,000 to 199,500 North Carolinians, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.
With an increasing demand for products and delivery services amid the outbreak, the American Trucking Association has reported growth in the industry.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, drivers could walk in to an NCDMV office for licensing services. Now, the NCDMV requires drivers to make appointments online.
Burkhardt said, however, there are no consequences for canceling or not showing up for appointments.
The time slots remain locked, shutting out other drivers from getting serviced.
“These are extremely valuable appointments,” he said. “I mean, they're a hot commodity, so to speak.”
It is an even more valuable process for CDL student drivers, who have to get learning permits as part of their training curriculum. Students cannot progress through the course because of the delays, Burkhardt said.
Instructors, staff and students have had to dedicate time to just canvassing for available appointments, but they are finding appointments weeks past the date when students are scheduled to take the learner’s permit tests. Other drivers also have been stranded off route waiting for CDL renewals.
“It runs the gamut. We’ve had folks who have been displaced due to COVID downsizing, etc., others that their jobs have been eliminated, or to their choosing a different career path,” he said.
Burkhardt wants the state to use an active Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) waiver that allows a trained third party to administer the permit tests and bypass the certification process. He also thinks the NCDMV should give CDLs precedence over other licenses.
John Brockwell, a spokesperson for NCDMV, said the department has been working with truck driving training schools and CDL compliance officials on securing appointments for drivers.
“With the overwhelming flow of appointments throughout the state, this is allowing us to work with customers in-office that may have appointments that don’t show up or get them in between customers’ appointments,” Brockwell said in a statement.
From January through June, NCDMV received 47,900 applications for CDLs. The department has issued more than 7,400 new CDLs, replaced another 17,660 and renewed 22,400 others.
More than 10,000 permit applications have been received by the department, and 9,000 have been issued.
Burkhardt said he is not aware of the process Brockwell described.
“How could they accommodate for a no-show? It's not like there are people waiting outside offices hoping for a no-show opening,” he said.
Brockwell said he hopes things will go “back to normal” during the next phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopenings.
“Hopefully [it] will allow us to go back to [our] office being open and excepting walk-ins at the offices,” he said.