Across China: Truck drivers chill out in exclusive highway "homes"
LANZHOU, July 20 (Xinhua) -- It was 36 degrees Celsius outside the truck cab when Shi Yunfu and his wife, Li Yulan, arrived in the city of Lanzhou, northwest China's Gansu Province and decided to take a rest at the nearest highway service area.
Despite a blistering heatwave that has swept across China since late June, truck drivers, like many other essential outdoor workers, are still working tirelessly to ensure unimpeded logistics.
Loaded with tonnes of timber, Shi and Li's truck was on a 4,000-km journey from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the central province of Henan. Forty-eight-year-old Shi drives, while his wife cooks and manages the money as well as other chores -- a regular practice for long-haul freight truck operators in China.
While approaching the Jiejiazui service area, a two-storied "drivers' home" drew their attention. "You can shower, do laundry, and rest inside," a poster outside the building read alluringly.
At a cost of 15 yuan (about 2.2 U.S. dollars), Shi took a shower before changing into a clean outfit. Li washed her husband's sweat-soaked clothes in the laundry room and hung them for drying. Lunchboxes were sold inside at less than 15 yuan each.
Sitting in the lobby, the couple enjoyed free watermelon and iced porridge offered by the staff. "It is like a timely rain," Shi said in a cheerful mood. They could also pay 80 yuan to spend the night in the "drivers' home" if they wanted.
Truck drivers constitute an indispensable part of China's freight logistics. In 2020, some 17.28 million truck drivers handled 74 percent of freight transport volume in the country, data from the Ministry of Transport showed.
They are also known for having a hectic pace of life. For Shi and Li, spending more than 300 days a year on the road is quite normal. To save money and prevent theft of goods, most drivers choose to sleep in the truck instead of a motel.
Since 2018, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions and the Ministry of Transport have jointly launched the "drivers' home" project across the country to improve driver's quality of life.
Over 700 such facilities have been built nationwide, mainly in highway service areas and by major logistics centers. Medics are posted inside to provide free medical consultations and simple health checks for the drivers, and a video surveillance system is installed to ease drivers' worry about property loss.
Wu Lingdong, 50, was transporting wind turbine towers in northwestern China. He said the "drivers' home" at Jiejiazui service area "feels like a real home for us."
Wu recalled the tough old days when he first became a driver 30 years ago. "At that time, even the driving cab was burning hot in the summer, but we seldom left the truck, not to mention taking a shower or eating hot meals. The best we could do was to park the truck under a tree and go out to stretch our legs for a while."
A total of 45 "drivers' homes" have been put into use in Gansu, with 25 more to be built this year, according to the provincial department of transport.
The province also launched a free public liability insurance product in 2021 to cover truck drivers' property losses at highway service areas within Gansu.
After two hours of rest, Shi and Li hit the road again. With their businesses expanding, the couple bought their sixth truck of the past decade last year. They feel even more motivated as both of their two sons are getting married soon.
After this trip concludes, they will be back home in Zhoukou of Henan Province, with dried fruit of Xinjiang as gifts for their family.
"Hot weather is no longer unbearable now," said Shi. "With the 'drivers' homes' and many more driver-friendly policies, we feel cared for and supported along the way."