Get a load on

| December 12, 2008

In addition to data about specific loads, the bigger matching websites provide critical information about broker credit ratings and average payment speed.

Rigoberto Chavez was working the phones and eyeing the load-board monitor in the small room behind the TV theater at a truck stop east of Seattle. He was hoping for a load paying at least $1.80 a mile, but after several conversations with brokers and a final search of the load board, he settled for a load paying $1.35 a mile to El Paso, Texas.

“There were plenty of loads, but many of them were only paying a dollar a mile,” says Chavez, a 13-year owner-operator from Monrovia, Calif. “That would just cover my diesel.”

Veteran owner-operator Beverly Smith, meanwhile, sat at home in Meherrin, Va., trying unsuccessfully to find a load paying at least $3 a mile. But he wasn’t discouraged. “I received eight calls from brokers this morning, and my trucks are posted on the load board,” he said.

Chavez and Smith represent the full spectrum of owner-operator dependence on load-matching services. Chavez uses load boards about three times per week to cover occasional backhauls, he says. Smith, on the other hand, relies almost exclusively on a single board to find hauls in Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia that will get him back home most nights.

Load-matching services have become an essential tool for many owner-operators in recent years. For operators who don’t have dedicated runs and want to cut down on deadhead miles, online load boards save time by opening a window to hundreds of thousands of hauls through thousands of brokers. The most popular sites provide not just pertinent load data but information that helps owner-operators evaluate new brokers, such as broker credit ratings and average payment speed. Some even help calculate whether a prospective load will be profitable.

“Basically, a load board is an advertising vehicle,” says David Schrader, TransCore senior vice president for freight services. “If you have a load and are looking for capacity, or you’re an owner-operator looking for a load, it’s an efficient vehicle for advertising your availability or your desire for a given business.”

The system’s efficiency can be offset by having to deal with unknown brokers who usually have the upper hand because of their arrangements with shippers. Plus, some shipments posted on load boards may be low-paying or outdated.

“Load matching works in the spot market or with cheap freight, such as hauling wood chips, where the shippers can’t afford to pay more than fuel to haul it,” says David Owen, president of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies. “If a shipper has decent freight, they don’t need load matching or a broker.”

Load boards have been around for about 20 years. In the early days, carriers phoned for load leads and received faxes on what was available. As the Internet developed, load posting proliferated online. Now fewer than 10 percent, such as Smith, still phone load-board call centers during searches.

Some load matching services have come and gone. Today, the industry is dominated by three: Getloaded, Internet Truckstop and TransCore’s 3sixty Freight Match powered by DAT. They account for about 95 percent of the market, says Doug Moscrip, chief operations officer of Internet Truckstop.

Monthly subscriptions start at $20 to $35 for basic unlimited load- and lane-searching services and can run up to $125 or more, depending on specialized needs or optional services, such as detailed credit reports, trip routing and fuel price information. If you don’t use a computer, you can dial a service’s call center, give details of the load you want and receive a call or fax with loads that match your request. All the leading load posting companies provide similar services, Schrader says. One feature of TransCore’s 3sixty is 1,200 monitors in truck stops displaying load information.

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