Optimism rises among independent truckers as lockdown loosens

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More independent operators expect improving prospects as much of the economy takes steps to reopen after weeks of COVID-19 cutbacks.

In the most recent poll of Overdrive and Commercial Carrier Journal readers, 36% of respondents running one to nine trucks say freight levels will increase or “increase significantly” over the next 30 days. That’s up from 20% in the prior poll, conducted May 14-19.

Survey responses for what changes have you made to your business in response to the coronavirus?

The most recent poll was conducted May 28 through June 9. Among the 303 respondents, 264 have their own operating authority and more than half operate only one truck.

“The third week of May, I began seeing flatbed volumes increase, and it has been steady building since that time,” commented one respondent. “Rates have been rising as well.” Many others continued to bemoan low rates and to blame brokers for exploiting the situation.

Three in four respondents rated their status as “totally shut down” or “running far less than usual.” “Never seen this much scarcity of freight in my 34 years of trucking,” wrote a respondent.

“I have had to decrease my food consumption significantly,” commented another. “Also started skipping medication two days a week to make it last longer. Not enough money to survive paying bills and to eat. Hopefully I will not perish.”

Almost one in five respondents said they have brought back drivers that were laid off in response to coronavirus. Another 14% said they have decreased their driver workforce.

Pie charts depicting owner-operator freight demandA quarter of respondents applied for the first or second round of the federal Paycheck Protection Program loans or the Economic Injury Disaster program, which is no longer available to trucking companies, and were approved. Another 20% applied and were rejected or have not learned of their application’s status.

Fleets of six to nine trucks were most successful with the programs, administered by banks working through the U.S. Small Business Administration, with 54% getting approved. PPP recipients that fulfill loan terms can get their loans forgiven.

By far the biggest challenges for surviving through the rest of the year were rated as freight pricing (65%) and cash flow (52%).

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