Most intermodal operations are small one- to two-truck operations. But increasingly, big trucking companies like Swift and Schneider are getting into the game.
Despite the hazards of hauling cans, there are some major advantages, say drivers and carriers. For one, most intermodal truckers are regional and get home on a regular, if not nightly, schedule. Joseph Turner is home most nights with his family, which he says is more important to him than the money he made as an over-the-road driver.
“I drive in a 275- to 300-mile radius,” he says. “I’m geared to my family. I still have to get out and make a living but I get to see them. That was important to me when they were growing up. I got to see them grow up.”
Driver Donavan Hill says his wife didn’t like his stint as an OTR trucker, either. “She couldn’t stand it when I worked over the road,” Hill says. “I decided to go local and also go back to school and study computer science. Now I get home every day and still get the bills paid.”
Hill says the pay is less, but that he spent more when he was on the road in truckstops and waiting for loads. Now he has more money left over and more time with his family.
Jim and Athena Shannon like the predictability of a longer, but still regional, haul from Colorado to the Port of Oakland. “It’s sort of a dedicated run,” Shannon says. “It’s not that cut and dried, but we pretty much go to the same facility every week. We run the same days of the week. That’s what we like.”
The couple also likes the no-touch freight. “We never have to haggle with lumpers,” Shannon says. “Or wait for a warehouse that claims that they’re running short.”
The no-touch freight and the regional hauling attracts drivers to intermodal, especially after they’ve had their fill of three-week shifts away from home, says Morgan Southern’s Jim Morgan.
Drivers also like detention pay, which, while not standard for intermodal haulers, is more common in intermodal operations. Often such pay is mandated by law if the detention occurs at a terminal, although terminal operators will often take steps to avoid paying it. During the West Coast port shutdown, the Shannons even managed some detention pay from their carrier, even though it was a lot less than what they would have made if they had been running.
For owner-operator Ed Santos, however, the flexibility is the reason he hauls intermodal. “I can go to work early or I can go late,” he says. “It’s not important to be there at a certain time. It’s working for me right now.” With two kids, Santos says, the flexibility and regional nature of his work is essential. He gets to pick up his 4-year-old daughter from school and spend time with his 13-year-old son. “It helps to spend time with them,” he says.
For those drivers who still feel the call of the open road, hauling intermodal may not sound attractive, but it may be something they’ll have to do. With the growth of intermodal hauling, more OTR truck drivers used to pulling 53-foot vans will likely haul some cans. “The reality is that fleets can’t get away from intermodal,” Malloy says. “Intermodal has become more integrated into the overall transportation system.”
Intermodal is also becoming more integrated with large truckload carriers like J.B. Hunt and Schneider. Malloy says that J.B. Hunt did more than $740 million in intermodal business this year, and Schneider topped $500 million. Schneider has increased that business 20 percent each of the past three years.