The total national population of owner-operators, as of 2002, was estimated at 390,000, according to the most recent Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey issued by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce.
“We think that’s an accurate estimate,” Todd Spencer, OOIDA [Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn.] executive vp told Fleet Owner. “We’ve anticipated there could be as many as 500,000.”
Noting the rising demand for owner-operators and drivers in today’s trucking industry, Spencer underscored turnover as the major problem today— not population.
“People leave the industry everyday,” said Spencer. “[The market] creates plenty [new independent drivers], but without structural improvements in the industry and without the ability to earn a decent income, these turnover problems will persist.”
Drawing conclusions on whether the owner-operator population is expanding or contracting under skyrocketing demand as well as staggering fuel and operating expenses is difficult, based on the lack of recent, accurate data, Spencer said. However, he believes that the positive and negative market conditions “cancel each other out” so that the population has remained relatively consistent.
“Finding real, hard data on owner-operators is always a challenge,” he said. “You can’t tell when they cease to do business. But overall I think the turnover problem is going to persist unless there’s a real economic incentive for owner-operators to do business. People may try the business, but wont stick around. Just like in Social Security, there is a baby boom bubble and that challenge is getting worse because we’re having an aging population of truckers.”