A slow but steady rise in freight levels this year is helping to fuel demand for owner-operators among fleets, according to one industry consultant.
"Owner-operators are a commodity that carriers of all sizes are striving to get," said Dale Lawless, president of Lowell AR-based consulting firm LPS Inc. "There's more freight to be moved, but many carriers don't have the money to acquire assets. So they are trying to increase capacity by bringing on owner-operators, who bring a truck and professional skills to the table without the carrier having to worry about healthcare or vehicle maintenance costs."
Lawless, whose firm helps carriers recruit drivers, said many fleets are also sweetening pay and benefit packages for owner-operators as a way to sign more of them up, offering everything from $2,000 sign-on bonuses to access to fleet discount programs.
"We're also seeing a trend toward building up dedicated freight for owner-operators and some company drivers on the part of carriers," he said. "Now instead of irregular routes, where an owner-operator drives 600 miles one week and 1,000 the next, they are getting constant 600-mile-runs that get them home on weekends."
From Lawless' view, those efforts show the market is tipping in the owner-operators favor.
"It is an excellent time for owner-operators because so many major carriers want them and are bidding for their services with far more options than in the past," Lawless said.
However, despite all the renewed attention being paid to owner-operators, some feel key work issues still aren't being addressed.
"Signing bonuses and the like may be counterproductive for fleets because they don't resolve the core issue with driver retention, which is unpaid loading and unloading time," said Todd Spencer, executive vice-president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.