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Company driver pay swelled in first quarter, analyst says

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Van haulers earned 2.7 cents a mile more on average in 2018’s first quarter, and flatbedders brought in 3 cents a mile more. Reefer haulers saw the strongest gains, 3.3 cents a mile more than 2017’s first three months. (Photo by Jim Allen/365Trucking)Van haulers earned 2.7 cents a mile more on average in 2018’s first quarter, and flatbedders brought in 3 cents a mile more. Reefer haulers saw the strongest gains, 3.3 cents a mile more than 2017’s first three months. (Photo by Jim Allen/365Trucking)

Per-mile company driver pay in the first quarter of 2018 surged compared to the same quarter a year ago, according to data from the National Transportation Institute, with some fleets, mostly midsize to large carriers, pressing driver pay ahead by a range of 7 to 11 cents a mile compared to 2017’s first three months.

“That’s a staggering amount,” says NTI President Gordon Klemp, who’s tracked driver pay changes since 1994. “These are very aggressive moves.”

Klemp said 6.25 percent of fleets tracked by NTI instituted pay boosts in the 7- to 11-cent range. Another 43.75 percent of fleets surveyed by Klemp boosted driver pay in the 4- to 6-cent range, also historically strong gains, said Klemp. The remaining 50 percent of carriers in Klemp’s data set raised pay by 1 to 3 cents a mile.

The wage increases were part of carriers’ efforts to retain drivers, says Klemp. NTI saw almost no increase from the year prior in 2017’s first quarter, he said. Pay moves didn’t begin until last spring and summer, and this cycle of driver wage hikes was shorter than most, says Klemp.

Fleets are now at the tail-end of about an 8-month cycle of pay increases, he says. In that time, nearly all of the fleets he’s studied — 81 percent — have raised company driver pay. “That’s also very high,” he says. “It tells us this pay cycle is going to end pretty quickly. There aren’t many fleets left who haven’t moved. We’re going to continue to see that last roughly 20 make their moves [soon], and I expect another round of pay moves to kick off sometime this fall.”

Broken out by segment, refrigerated haulers saw the biggest per-mile pay gains, 3.3 cents a mile. Flatbed driver pay climbed 3 cents a mile, and per-mile van pay climbed an average of 2.7 cents.

Sign-on bonus rates also surged in the first quarter, according to NTI data. Sign-on bonuses for van drivers grew to a $7,000 average, NTI reports — a big jump from 2017’s first-quarter $1,500 average. Sign-on bonuses for reefer drivers grew to $3,000 on average, up from 2017’s first-quarter average of $1,000. Flatbed bonuses moved to a $6,000 average, up from $1,500.

Klemp says data for the first two months of the second quarter (April and May) show continued acceleration in driver pay, with pay announcements from December and January beginning to kick in.

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