Driver Dilemma: in Search of Owner-Operators

An insightful article posted at highlights the modern trucking owner-operator.

Owner-Operators are truck drivers who own their own trucks, and operate them on their own. This is as opposed to a trucking company owner who does not drive his or her own trucks, but hires other drivers to operate them.

The article starts off by noting that the recent recession caused many owner-operators to park or sell their trucks because of a lack of work, but notes that as the economy continues to rebound, these entrepreneurs have as well, and trucking fleets have also taken notice and are making efforts to recruit and retain them.

ATBS, a company that provides owner-operators with financial and business services, has been tracking the contractor market for about 10 years. The Lakewood, Colo., company’s founder, Todd Amen says that the rebound has led to a great economic opportunity.

“I look at the job of an owner-operator today and think it’s the best economic opportunity it’s ever been for owner-operators,” he continues. “Our number of owner-operator customers has grown about 15% in the last two years.” While Amen says that levels are not quite back to the where they were at their peak before the recession, his estimates are the industry lost 20 to 25% of its owner-operators during the recession.

“I think the owner-operators are really kind of coming back,” says Trent Dye, director of the Columbus, Ohio-based Paramount Freight Systems, a 100% owner-operator fleet. “The last few years they kind of went away for a while, but we’re starting to see a rebound.”

Dye notes that a big reason for the upturn is that companies have been able over the last couple of years to pay more thanks to rate increases that have been long overdue. That increase in pay has brought many owner-operators back into business.

A fleet that does business with ATBS, Con-way Truckload, has also revamped its owner-operator program, according to the story, and now employs about 320 independent contractors, a healthy portion of their total of 2,200 tractor trailers. They plan to continue to use owner-operators as part of their primary plan for growth.

“The biggest reason is obviously the cash flow involved in adding new tractors,” said T.J. Hunt, senior manager of independent contractor relations at Con-way Truckload. “As you know, tractors are considerably more expensive. If we want to grow the size of our fleet, we ought to look at guys – and gals – who own their truck.”

Hunt also notes that the number of owner-operators who have failed in their business has dropped considerably since the days of the recession.

“Watching the owners as a whole come back strong is very encouraging,” he says. “There are still people out there who say the owner model is dead and it’s not worth your time, but if that’s true, why is every major carrier going after them?”

The Wisconsin-based Schneider National, a so-called “megafleet,” employs more than 2,200 owner-operators and has more than 13,000 drivers in its fleet. Spokesman Mike Norder says Schneider “loves” owner-operators, and notes that today’s version of that job title is quite a bit different than in days gone by.

“I think they’re better businesspeople. I see the precision in which they select loads and manage their business and the other aspects of it. I see it in the spec of the trucks they buy or lease. It’s fuel-efficient, it’s what a smart businessperson would choose. If you look back years ago, it would be more about raw horsepower and bells and whistles as opposed to driving for fuel efficiency and the bottom line,” says Norder.

This story is a long, in-depth, and insightful one, and for those people interested in the happenings in the trucking industry, it is more than a worthwhile read. There is a great deal of additional detail in addition to what has been listed here, and for those with an interest in the industry, it offers great points on owner-operators and how they are again emerging in the trucking landscape.

To read the entire story, visit and go to this link.