Intermodal Muddle

Max Kvidera | March 01, 2011

“One of the warehouses (where I pick up) went from 30 loads a month down to five,” he says. “Another company I do a lot of work for is a scrap metal place and they brought in more work, so I wasn’t affected much overall.”

Cracraft says he makes enough from hauling containers to make payments on his 2010 Freightliner and medical insurance and contributions to his retirement. “The job’s always been great for me,” he says. “It’s a hard business because if the dollar is weak, there are lots of exports. If our dollar’s strong, there are lots of imports.”

Joe Meyers: Leased out

Joe Meyers considers himself lucky to get fuel surcharges in both directions.

During much of his 19 years driving, Meyers has been an owner-operator. He’s now leased to Maritime Delivery Services, which is owned by oceangoing carrier OOCL.

Since September, he says he’s had only two weeks when he didn’t work at least five or six days. Most of the time he runs within a 300-mile radius of the Savannah, Ga., port.

Meyers knows he’s doing better than other drivers. He earns a 22-cent-a-mile fuel surcharge in both directions, while drivers he knows receive a surcharge in only one direction — if they get it at all. “Agents don’t want to give a surcharge in both directions, and they keep what’s left over,” he says.

On a recent trip to Atlanta, he received 92 cents a mile, plus the fuel surcharge both ways. “A guy on his own authority or working with an agent will get paid per mile or a percentage and a surcharge that works out less than that,” he says.

Meyers says he’s making more money now than when he was running for a motor carrier, plus he’s home most nights. Before, his weekly settlements would average around $1,200, he says. Now he works five days a week and gets a settlement closer to $1,500.

Meyers says his experience at finding good chassis enhances his productivity. “I know how to play the game now,” he says. “I can get out of (the port) twice as fast as a new guy.”

Jim Stewart: Using trip leases

Jim Stewart says rates are low but he’s making enough money as a free-lance hauler to get by.

Long-time independent Jim Stewart says he’s been in and out of intermodal trucking since 1972, during a colorful career that’s included more than driving. In the late 1990s, he says he worked with the Teamsters to help lead protests in support of better working conditions and pay for truckers at East Coast ports. In 2003, he says, he worked with unions and Congressmen to help craft a bill to improve chassis inspection and maintenance programs.

In recent years, Stewart has found trip leases pay well and fit his need for steady, yet flexible full-time work year-round. When a carrier has more work than it can handle, its dispatcher will call Stewart to pull local boxes or run into the ports of Charleston, S.C., or Savannah, Ga.

Stewart, who drives a 1986 Western Star, works mostly with three or four people from his many contacts. Instead of settling for $37 to $40 from a carrier to make a pickup at the port, Stewart will negotiate for $45 to $50 or more and get it, he says. “We’re doing better than a lot of owner-operators,” he says. “About a dozen of us share names of carriers and dispatchers that work with us — almost like a small hiring hall.”

Forcing out owner-operators

In Southern California, a combination of stringent emissions regulations and political wheeling and dealing is making it tough for independent contractors to survive. Regulations imposed by the California Air Resources Board to reduce diesel emissions have forced many truckers to retrofit older trucks or buy newer trucks that meet standards. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.