Owner-operator analyst on 2017: ELD rate boost still looms, income to be ‘flat to up’

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Owner-operator income should be stable in 2017, says ATBS’ Todd Amen, if not slightly up in 2017.Owner-operator income should be stable in 2017, says ATBS’ Todd Amen, if not slightly up in 2017.

Industry implementation of electronic logging devices ahead of the December 18 deadline for adoption is still expected to cut trucking’s productivity and drive up rates, said owner-operator analyst Todd Amen last week. However, the rates bump will likely come later than initially thought, he says.

Amen, president and CEO of ATBS, presented a webinar Wednesday on owner-operator miles and income trends from 2016 (see Overdrive coverage of those figures at this link) and offered a brief outlook for owner-operators the next 12 months. ATBS is the country’s largest owner-operator services firm and works with about 40,000 owner-operators annually — the well from which ATBS draws its mileage and income data.

ATBS will hold a conference call for owner-operators Wednesday to discuss its 2016 findings. Amen will discuss the 2016 figures and provide insight into 2017 predictions. Click here to register for the conference call, which takes place at 12 p.m. Eastern.

“We still believe significant rate increases are coming,” Amen said last week. “But our timing was off. We believe a rate increase is coming, not by the end of 2017, but in 2017 and into 2018.”

Amen predicts ELD implementation will spur rate growth until about mid-2018. Rates could grow by as much as 10 percent in that time, he said.

Income for owner-operators in 2016 dipped slightly from 2015. Amen said he expects owner-operator income in 2017 to be “flat to up,” he said, “but better than some expect.”

As noted in prior Overdrive reporting, independents and flatbedders were 2016’s top owner-operator earners, making $60,577 and $63,959, respectively. Leased van operators and reefer operators made $60,424 and $52,274, respectively, in 2016. All four of those figures were down from 2015, despite owner-operators in all four segments driving more miles in the year.

2016 was mostly a tough year for single-truck businesses, Amen said, but the U.S. owner-operator population grew despite market challenges. “In 2015, there were about 265,000 owner-operator trucks. In 2016, there were about 268,000 owner-operator trucks,” he said, noting the owner-operator figures “grew by 3,000 in a challenging environment.” Those figures include both independent truckers and those who lease their tractor to a carrier.

Today’s owner-operators are more resilient than those in years past, Amen said. Conditions like those in 2016 — tough freight environment and cheap rates — would have put 20,000 owner-operators out of business just 10 years ago. “Understanding business better helped the owner-operator population [last year],” he said.

Amen said he expects the industry to further consolidate in 2017, noting independent owner-operators could be inclined to lease on to carriers for greater “certainty in freight,” he said.

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