IC survey: 6 ‘surprising’ slides from latest ATBS data

Leased-on owner-operators can be impressively sophisticated in their understanding of trucking, but distressingly naïve about managing affairs, putting a lot pressure on the group—and the fleets who rely on independent contractors—during a two-year economic slowdown and with the pending mandate for electronic logs. That’s the overview from several dozen slides presented in the latest ATBS Independent Contractor Benchmarking Webinar, "2016: Stuck in Neutral?". Still, ICs fared better than many in trucking during the downturn, and are poised to take advantage of improving market dynamics.

ATBS, whose business is based on managing the business needs of owner-operators, got its start 18 years ago by helping company drivers transition to being their own boss. More recently, ATBS has developed a service offering aimed at “hired guns,” its term term for owner-operators who have grown beyond a lease-purchase program, have bought a truck on their own, and are looking for a carrier to lease-on with. For the IC survey, ATBS Founder, President and CEO Todd Amen worked with fleets to put together a profile of their leased-on truckers “to better understand” the market.

“As I travel around and I talk to fleets, one thing I know is almost every fleet we deal with wants more hired guns,” he said. “It’s a constant need, but they have really a hard time finding them and getting them signed on. I think that’s going to be even more so later this year and as we get on to 2018.”

The data comes from 72 carriers representing more than 15,000 ICs in the dry-van, reefer, flatbed, and specialized segments.

Along with some data points that align with the overall population of truck drivers—such as the aging demographic—Amen found a number of other specific characteristics of ICs that were “surprising” and even “shocking.” (See the following slides.)

Amen also uses the data to draw larger conclusions about the market. In explaining the hits and misses from last year’s predictions, he noted that IC miles didn’t go down in 2016, the combination of a slow adoption of ELDs and the need for ICs to run harder to make up for slow freight. Correspondingly, the pressure on rates ATBS anticipated has yet to materialize. But for 2017 Amen predicts last year’s slight reduction in IC income will turn around with rising rates and capacity consolidation will accelerate, but the overall impact of the December ELD deadline will depend on how the mandate is enforced.

“Last year was a really difficult year, but the owner-operator survived it. We helped them understand theirs costs, their business, how to get through last year,” Amen concluded. “Things are turning positive, quicker than we expected we expected them to. We think things are going to be good from here on out.”

ATBS also benchmarks the range of IC data for each participating fleet over time, allowing the carriers to assess the impact (or lack thereof) of various operational decisions compared competitor performance. Contact them for more information. A follow-up webinar, geared to owner-operators rather than to IC fleets, will be held Wednesday, April 12. The registration page is here.

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