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Overdrive Extra

Max Heine

Driving a lot less, earning a little bit more

| March 07, 2013

We’re all familiar with changes in trucking over recent decades that have changed the owner-operator business. Among them, volatile fuel prices, shorter length of haul, and tons of regulations.

But how about change in just this last decade? The owner-operator business model has shifted drastically, probably more than in many other industries.


The average annual miles driven by owner-operators has dropped 21 percent over 10 years, according to ATBS data.

ATBS, which provides business services for thousands of owner-operators, has plenty of data to measure the key factors. Matt Amen of ATBS threw out some eye-opening numbers this week during the annual meeting of the Truckload Carriers Association in Las Vegas.

Comparing owner-operator averages in 2012 with 2003:

* Revenue is up 26%.

* Revenue per mile is up 59%.

* Net income is up 9%.

* Net income per mile is up 38%.

* Miles per gallon is up 40% (5 mpg to 7 mpg).

* Fuel costs are up 163% ($1.51 to $3.97)

* Annual miles are down 21% (138,726 per year to 109,836).

* Length of haul is down roughly 35% (about 1,000 miles to 650).

* Days away from home are down from 28 to 5.

The money numbers are best summarized by net income per mile — up 38 percent, or almost a 4 percent gain every year. That’s a decent raise in any industry.

Of course, inflation is a big factor when you compare earnings over 10 years. Inflation increased 25 percent over those years, or 2.5 percent per year. Compared to that, 4 percent year after year still looks good.

However, looking strictly at income instead of income per mile, the 9 percent increase – about 1 percent per year — failed to keep pace with inflation. Even so, there was a bit of a recession in that period, leaving many industries reeling and many individuals unemployed or under-employed. As Amen observed, “Ten percent growth in net income is a lot better most have done.”

The other standout in the ATBS comparison is miles. Length of haul is shorter by a third, so it’s not surprising that total miles are down by a fifth. Nor is it surprising that average time on the road, instead of being a little less than a month, is a little less than a week.

Taken together, this means the life of an owner-operator has improved over 10 years. Real income has risen slightly, and to earn it you don’t have to drive ungodly numbers of miles and spend most of your life away from home.

A lot of you have had a different experience than what the ATBS averages say. How does your financial snapshot compare with a decade ago?


  • Raul G. De Molina

    brokers paying less, fuel going up, food and miscellaneous going up to, Rules and Regulation are harder.. I do not think our income had been better, on the contrary our fight for living is much more harder than 10 years ago.

  • josef

    I’m right there with you Raul.

  • Jackie

    LIES this is again why you should never believe what your read!!!!! Its just some corporation printing some BS that was spoon feed to them, and they have no idea what their talking about!!!! What I do know is believe never believe anything in this country anymore,and just incase Max Heine missed it I know more owner operators park their trucks now a days than buy them!!

  • Western O/O

    Why is Overdrive printing this drivel? Its totally false information following some hidden agenda.

  • Terry Massey

    Max, I suggest that you buy a truck, get your own authority and take advantage of this current BOOM in income and in a few years let us know about how much better life is for the owner operator.

  • Smart trucker

    Their right. Smart drivers are running less miles, and making more per mile, I am. It’s simple, I slowed down, I run 55 mph f my own free will, and get 8 mpg for the effort. Do the math and you’ll learn that 1 or 2 miles to the gallon is a lot of money. The higher fuel goes, the more I profit.

  • Daniel Kupke

    They r trying to make it look like we r makeing a liveing so they can justify takeing more of it from us as well as draw other idiots into the industry !! ??

  • Daniel Kupke

    N the longer it takes u to get there the less $$ u make over-all ?? Have u ever sat down n figured what running that 55 does to u financialy over the years ?? The loads u didn’t have time for ect ect n the lost time at home due to it takeing u so long to get there ?? Also being a rolling road-block on the freeway ect ect n causeing accidents ect ect ?? There is a happy medium where the trk runs in a sweet spot n maximizes the HP output as well as the fuel mileage n u still run a decent speed ect ect ??

  • kaltruck

    I started in the seventies as a leased operator for Schanno. In 1997 I became an owner operator because I could no longer make a living as a leased operator. In the last few years everything has gone to hell in a hand basket because brokers are taking as much as possible instead of a percentage. I’m not putting as many miles on because I refuse to haul cheap.
    The article is a bunch of crap.

  • Mike Jones

    ATA is now saying..A solution to the “driver shortage” will be when Obama grants Guest Worker amnesty to 11 Million illegal Aliens..apparently ATA thinks this will be great!

  • Toby

    Notice all but 1 comment below me is how awful everything is ??? The sad fact is …. For them its true.

  • nonstop

    This writer should be fired. His article is false and must be paid for by shippers and large trucking companies. It is so off base that the editor should have had him drug tested..

  • Andy

    The article doesnot bring into consideration the cost of maintance per mile, inflation cost increase, tax increases, replacement cost of the truck increases what are these percentages. There are many more factors that need to be added for a true picture. When you write an article use all the facts not certain one to make it look like the way you want it to.

  • David S. McQueen

    18 years ago, as an over-the-road company driver paid by the mile, I was getting 2500 – 3000 miles per week. Ten years later, I was lucky to get 2000 miles per week. I retired in 2006 but in 2007, I got a job offer from an oilfield service company to drive commercial vehicles (from wireline trucks to big pickups pulling trailers), getting paid by the hour. That was too good to refuse. And home almost every weekend. Unless the USA collapses, I’ll never drive OTR again.

  • Rayman

    Thanks for EXPOSING yourself Overdrive mag. as being part of the PROPAGANDA that this once FREE industry use to be.

  • truck no more

    notice he says you didn’t keep pace with inflation which means you were negative,but you had 10% growth-HELLO! Dont forget to factor in your 163% fuel increase

  • Sherlocktoo

    Does this author believe what he writes. He won’t convince me! He must be some jourNOlist who writes about how great things are straight out of the Obama office. No one who owns a truck is stupid enough to believe any of this. In 2003, my fuel was 30 cents less than what he says, and it wasn’t even that much in California. Hey Overdrive, FIRE THIS GUY IMMENDIATELY!

  • Dave

    Whats this guy on? We are the only industry. When you lay it all out,that has not had a raise. In years! 60% of gross revenue in fuel a week. Is not good. Where he gets the rates are up and miles are down.I don’t know. Even with a rate up. When you raise fuel and everything else.Useless!

  • Mike Jones

    Yep as USUAL..its a TRICK to benefit the RICH….they need more CHUMPS to feed off of.

  • Mike Jones

    Congrats…You have seen the light! OTR is pathetic.

  • Mike Jones

    ATA is in favor of the amnesty of 11 Million Ilegals….they are saying this is a good remedy for the driver shortage per the article on March 7 that appeared online….

  • Max Heine

    A few points about my post, then y’all can resume calling
    for my head:

    * ATBS clients are mostly owner-operators leased to large
    fleets. The bigger fleets have more flexibility for the logistics to
    accommodate shorter runs and getting their people more home time. The bigger fleets also tend to be more competitive with pay.

    * The vast majority of ATBS clients are leased, so Matt Amen’s
    data tells a different story than what independents have experienced.

    * Averages do not tell the whole story. There are thousands
    of owner-operators who, for reasons too numerous to cite here, have had a worse time than what Amen described.

    * ATBS pushes the same proven business principles that others preach. Their clients tend to be newer owner-operators, so if they remain in the business, adopt sound practices, and find a good fleet to lease to, they should improve year to year.

    * Net income (net income per mile) hasn’t kept up with
    inflation, as I pointed out. So by that measurement, indeed, things have gotten worse.

  • ilovdieselsmoke

    The guest worker program is already here drivers… Just look around at the freight rates! I’m so glad I worked forty plus years trucking to see my profession turn into a traffic discount club for corporate America. The only true advantage of the guest work program is that now top motor carriers along with their big box retail customers can have all their landscaping needs taken care of by the new breed of drivers they hire!!!!

  • JS

    The stress of running faster, making worse fuel mileage and chances of making mistakes, i.e., hauling a$$ out there on the roads is more costly. Run slower and smarter.

  • Toby Heaton

    Why doesnt Overdrive drug screen these authors ? ? ?

  • Mike Jones

    Funny!! …and True….

  • Mike Jones

    Obama will Ram Thru the Amnesty for his 11Million Illegals
    and they will be driving trucks by year end….ATA says this is a Remedy for the driver shortage…..this will keep Rates and Wages down closer to Zero where Obamas contributors would like them……ATA seems to be all for it!

  • Chelle Barnaby

    We’re thinking of opening up our own nuclear power plant. I’ve read that the federal and state regulations are less stringent. I can even work as many hours as I see fit, without needing a reset.

  • Mike Jones

    Yep..some journalist..spoon fed these lies and the ATA who is now Sponsering the Obama Bill to give amnesty/guest worker status to 11million criminal aliens…and give them trucking jobs.

  • Mike Jones

    ahahah!! Funny…and true..

  • SalenaLettera

    You’re exactly right. We also run 55 and pocket a lot more than other O/Os who run faster, claim there’s no freight and who say they can’t make any money. Same as you, the higher fuel goes, the more money we make. And we laugh at drivers who blow by us.

  • Gearjamn

    Well I used ATBS for two years and had to amend EVERYTHING they did as they have NO clue how to do taxes. So I am sure thay screwed up the figures like they did me claiming I made money that I did not. So the figures they have are surely WRONG. According to what they did I was RICH. Rising fuel,no surcharge from the greedy brokers , you can barely cover expenses in the Van world. I think ATBS accountants need to be drug tested.

  • Sharon Estes

    Someone commented on brokers. I feel it should be mandatory that brokers have to put on paper what the load is paying,so drivers know how much they are being gouged. I believe it’s illegal to charge more than 15%?

  • Mr. Magoo

    Well Max, I think you need to do more research on topics you write about. Call a tire co. and ask them what prices have done. Oil changes have gone up. All repairs have gone up. Brokers cheating you. Sitting at docks for 7-8hrs and not getting paid detention. And when they do pay, they give you 25dollars for sitting all day. Then you have to figure out how to run the load legally. I challenge you Max, to spend 1month in a truck and not behind a desk and learn the TRUTH!!! You are disallusioned. I might have to sell the truck, go on welfare,and do nothing but spend time with the family.

  • Michael Ridley

    ya there isn’t money in OTR

  • Michael Ridley

    before you laugh you might understand that time is more important then fuel spent in a good gig

  • Mike Jones

    They Always Hide that part…and Lie about everything…they are CROOKS…born to ripoff anyone they come in contact with..Thieves!

  • Robert

    When 99.9% all say the same thing, how can you just disregard them all?

  • Road_Slave

    Your all jumping on this authors Arse, but I see him quoting the ATBS ( Stupid as the “data” shows obviously it is flawed. So the real question of his article is “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!”

  • Mike Jones

    The Article is Propaganda……for whatever Agenda is to be Spewed..all LIES…nobody here believes anything this guy wrote…….hilarious LIES!!!!!!

  • A.J.

    An owner operator is an owner with his or her own authority. If you are leased to a company and not making money try stepping out on your own. That is how this country was started and that is how it will survive, not by whining and putting this country that I love and served down. Chances are the ones whining the loudest are lease operators and they would do well to park those trucks so o/o’s like me can have more freight.

  • Leszek Kolodziej

    Most important commodity in life is time. It is LIMITED. You can always make more money, however time once lost (at the dock, in traffic jam inspection, etc..) is gone forever. I drive only because I enjoy it, and go at max legal speed to spend time at home with ones I love. Fleets and brokers don’t value our time, neither do governments. To prove the point, I switched from a company owned by someone who never sat in a truck, to one owned by a former driver. It’s like night and day.

    Unfortunately people who regulate this industry, and other industries as well, have no clue beyond a spreadsheet or a calculator.

  • SalenaLettera

    Driving faster (or at the legal posted speed limits) isn’t ever really
    *better* for you or your equipment. First and foremost, it’s dangerous. You
    have a higher chance of getting in an accident because you have less reaction
    time to a situation that may arise. Your maintenance costs for your equipment
    is higher because by going faster, you’re wearing everything out sooner. Your
    fuel mileage is worse, which costs a LOT of money – we’ve saved at least $20,000
    a year by doing 55 mph. And really, the time you gain by going faster is

    If you make more money hauling fewer loads (like we do), you have more time
    off – at home, with your family, for vacations, etc. – and you have the money
    you saved to spend on all of that leisure activity if you want. We had six
    months off last year – part of that time was due to a family matter that needed
    our attention, part was due to slow freight in some of the areas we went to,
    and part was due to the fact that we just took days off here and there – yet we
    still made plenty of money to enjoy ourselves, fund our IRAs, pay for our
    insurance, buy my mother a car, and not go into a hole. And this year has
    started out with a bang, so I think year end is going to be pretty sweet. As a
    team, we drive approximately 100,000 miles a year.

    Friends of ours,
    also owner-operators, just spent six weeks in Asia on vacation, another three
    after they came home to wrap up some trucking stuff, and recently got back on
    the road with a brand new trailer they bought (cash) three days ago. They also
    drive slower, enjoying the savings and benefits.

    Things out here may
    not be the same as they were thirty years ago, but they’re not as bad as many of
    these whining drivers lead you to believe.

  • Mike Jones

    Yes it’s a Pure Joy for the Double Zero….who could ask for more….Rose Colored Glasses Anyone??

  • Mike Jones

    They are For Sure a Shill for the ATA and the Immigration Reform they are begging Congress to pass….they want Obamas 11Million Guest Workers in trucking….should be signed in April….Tentative Agreement last night March 29
    between Business and Labor….ATA is cheering them on!!

  • Mike Jones

    Its a Diversion and smoke screen..while they pass IMMIGRATION REFORM….will be signedinto law April 8 allowing 11 Million illegal aliens to get CDL License and Flood the Trucking Industry…..ATA is Pushing very hard to get these Guest Workers in Trucking….Pronto.

  • Mike Jones


  • Mike Jones

    Tricks..Tricks…and More Tricks……on top of LIES.

  • Mike Jones

    AGENDA……for their RICH PALS….. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.