What does it mean to be an owner-operator of a heavy truck or small trucking operation? Contracting or leasing on with a carrier, calls may be made back and forth and multiple people may get involved as loads are continually arranged. There are dead miles and some loads are better than others, but you work as best you can.
Now think of an Uber or Lyft driver using a simple app to find and accept passengers and get paid for driving them more quickly and conveniently vs. traditional taxicabs. What if truck drivers did that same thing to match up to and haul loads? That's essentially the new business model and possibility that's been emerging in the world of freight vs. traditional freight brokering.
Some in the industry believe there could be a sort of Renaissance for drivers prepared for it. The truck driver job could evolve into a mobile tech-enabled, modern career, smaller trucking businesses could compete better in the market and the truck driver entrepreneur could leverage freight-matching technology to develop, select and manage his or her business more flexibly and profitably. There could be big improvements even in truckers' day-to-day routines and operations.
The worry, on the other hand, is to fail to prepare if this is indeed coming. The so-called "Uberization" of freight could disrupt things, as happened for NYC taxicabs when the Uber ride-sharing wave came on years ago and changed their business drastically—and probably forever.
Coming of age
This isn't a hypothetical. Real milestones are happening as more Uber-like freight-booking options have matured for trucking and are getting more popular. One significant bit of news came from Convoy, which announced this month it has reached 100% automated load-matching in key markets and 95% automated load-matching nationally with its online freight brokerage.
In other words, shippers enter loads in Convoy's system that are then matched to the best-fit carriers completely digitally via an app, with no calls between people involved. "Convoy reached this degree of automation by empowering carriers to find and book their desired loads with the tap of a finger," the company said as it marked the achievement.
"In the traditional [freight] brokerage model, each rep makes roughly 100 calls in order to book 10 loads," Convoy pointed out. "Finding the right truck is one of the most time-consuming tasks for brokers."
In addition to a much faster, streamlined process than that for shippers, Convoy lists a number of benefits for carriers using its freight platform including:
—A Flex Loads feature allows a shipper to set up a load that can be picked up or dropped off over a window of time or multiple days, helping carriers reduce empty miles and shippers get better rates.
—"No Hassle Detention" where if a truck is detained at a shipper/ receiver for more than two hours, the driver can request detention directly in the Convoy app and get approved instantly.
—In-app private bidding where carriers can either accept a load at the rate offered or place a bid for the load at a different rate, all with no haggling or phone calls.
—The ability to request a desired load and over time, "Convoy learns from carrier behavior," the company says. "With each load, we get better at recommending the next load."
—Faster payouts/ turnaround for carriers as soon as loads are completed and signed bills of lading are uploaded.
While Convoy offers one option, technology firm Haulynx has devised another that happens to cover a different requirement and expense truckers have. Since most commercial truck drivers must now use electronic logging devices to record on-/off-duty time, Haulynx built and offered two ELDs—both registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration—available to carriers at no cost.
The business angle is that Haulynx uses the ELD data to identify available freight/ drive time capacity in a given area so brokers can book their loads more precisely, paying Haulynx for that service.
Exclusively for long-haul truckers at this point, Haulynx has an Android app for carriers that's designed to provide a simple, efficient experience to access its network of independent brokers. The company has now added turn-by-turn truck navigation for loads and geofencing features from Mapbox that are in beta testing with carriers.
A driver is matched to a load and gets detailed directions to deliver it, and geofencing follows the truck and triggers automated messages "throughout the entire lifecycle of the load" as the shipment reaches various points, providing updated ETAs to shippers and brokers for a much more streamlined, connected experience—and all managed by smarter tech, not manually.
Where it all started
Although it hasn't yet caught fire in trucking and freight as it did with ride-sharing, many truckers are aware of and use the actual Uber Freight app.
"Uber Freight is lightening the load for carriers: up-front, no-haggle pricing, instant confirmed booking, payment within seven days of proof of delivery," that company claims with its app, essentially another take on how best to do an automated brokerage/ freight-matching platform that works best for all parties involved.
And there are strong similarities among these online services like Convoy and Uber Freight. The Uber Freight app learns the carrier's preferences, for example, such as home base, favorite lanes and cargo types and notifies carriers when a new load is listed that matches with their specific history.
Taking a page from its ride-sharing book, Uber has added shipper facility ratings to the Uber Freight app to allow drivers to leave feedback on things like detention time, restroom access and parking at facilities while shippers can target areas they need to improve. The company believes this will help cure some of the problems drivers have long reported with some facilities.
And it's yet another area in transportation where machine learning and more intelligent search algorithms are coming to bear in real-world use, as in this case with things like loads more precisely matched to carriers' preferences. Add-on benefits like discounts on fuel, maintenance parts and even new trucks are further sweetening the deal with these freight-matching apps and platforms for carriers.
More importantly for owner-operators and smaller trucking operations especially, these trends in online/ automated freight-matching could produce a more flexible, profitable, efficient business model. Automation, smarter apps and advancing technology are delivering more loads that better meet truck drivers' needs with less hassle, faster pay, and fewer of the problems and outdated processes they've had to cope with in trucking for many years.