Double time

James Jaillet | September 01, 2010
Butch and Dora Colvin drove team for 18 years before retiring this year. Dora says treating co-drivers kindly is the first step in fostering a successful team relationship. “All of us are short tempered every now and then, but you have to just stop and think about what you’re saying,” she says. “A quick apology sure beats having someone upset with you.”

Owner-operator teams are in demand as fleets dangle top rates and sign-on bonuses to move high-value, time-sensitive loads.

Team owner-operators Michael McNeely and his wife Cheryl are riding high. As freight heats up, they and other teams are cashing in on growing driver demand and increasing rates. While the McNeelys specialize in transporting service-sensitive government freight, they are often called on to move time-sensitive dedicated loads that pay top dollar, even as the work sometimes disrupts sleeping and eating habits.

“But when a load is hot,” Michael McNeely says, “the numbers can escalate quickly,” and driving team is usually the only way to get these high-dollar loads to their destination.

Fleets are offering premium mileage rates and sign-on bonuses of up to $6,000 per team for new team operations, says Gordon Klemp, president of the National Transport Institute, which surveys fleets quarterly to measure compensation packages.

Among fleets hiring owner-operator teams, Klemp says 32 percent are offering sign-on bonuses. A year ago, no fleets were offering such bonuses. Team pay “will likely move up a little more aggressively than that for solo drivers,” he says.

Teams’ time advantage over solo drivers, due to hours of service limits, gives carriers the opportunity to increase revenue because some shippers will pay higher rates for expedited service, says Dana Bibb, assistant truck operations manager for Mercer.

Mike Hinz, vice president of driver recruiting for Schneider National, says the carrier pays team owner-operators 90 cents per mile and a 100 percent fuel surcharge. Another 2 cents per mile is added as a “utilization and safety incentive” if the team runs 22,000 or more miles in a month.

Team driving is more productive for an owner-operator business, says Don Lacy, director of safety for Prime Inc. With more miles per month, the team more quickly covers fixed expenses, such as truck payment and insurance, resulting in higher net income per mile.

“With a team, you can essentially run unencumbered,” Lacy says. “Nobody makes money while the truck is sitting at a truck stop.”

Some Prime teams net more than $3,500 a week, Lacy says. For some cross-country expedited loads, it’s not uncommon for a shipper to pay $8,000 one-way to ensure quick delivery, he says. “Sometimes they’ll even give you $2,000 just to deadhead out there to get the load.”

While it’s more efficient to get more revenue with no increase in fixed expenses, the flip side is that maintenance costs – along with other variable expenses, notably fuel and tires – are accelerated. Brian Hale, an owner-operator from Sunset, Utah, says when he started his team, he knew his truck would wear quicker than originally anticipated when he bought the truck in 2009. “I went ahead and bit the bullet to have the engine recertified and got an extended warranty so that if something does go wrong, I have it covered,” he says.

Scheduling maintenance is no different for teams than it is for solo drivers in terms of miles, says Steve Bredigkeit, director of owner-operator support at Boyd Bros., but the miles turn faster. “You just have to be aware of when you’re scheduled for oil changes, and you have to set up a maintenance schedule,” he says.

  • shelby townsend

    How does one get involved with being an owner operator wanting to delivery goods using a 24 box truck making around $3500 a week? Does anyone know how to get started? Please share. Thanks

  • Todd Dills

    Depends on a lot of things, Shelby — you’ll need authority to haul if you’re moving interstate, customers, etc. Assuming you have your own truck, which it sounds like you may. If you’re running a Class 8 truck and are interested in doing what the teams here are doing, primarily expedited freight, call around to some of the companies mentioned and inquire about leasing opportunities. You may well be more attractive to them if you have a team driver, but that’s not exclusive. I’ve talked to solo drivers leased to expediters, too, of course. Good luck. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.