Truck Tech

The Gig Economy Comes to Trucking

Blog commentary by Jack Roberts, Senior Editor

May 24, 2017

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Uber Freight is a new service and app that allows owner-operators to bypass traditional freight brokers and locate and contract loads for themselves. Photo: Uber Freight
Uber Freight is a new service and app that allows owner-operators to bypass traditional freight brokers and locate and contract loads for themselves. Photo: Uber Freight

I first ran across the idea of a “Gig Economy” a couple of weeks ago and immediately grasped its meaning. There’s no official definition, but in broad terms, it characterizes a labor market in which people seek out short-term freelance work in addition to, or as opposed to, employment in the conventional sense.

This new concept is reflected in last week's launch by Uber of its long-anticipated Uber Freight service and app, which basically allows owner-operators to bypass traditional freight brokers and locate and contract loads for themselves. It’s an interesting concept from the company that can arguably be called the tech enabler for this new Gig Economy.

This is the positive side of technology in action today, acting as an enabler for people who want to better their lives-– and it’s nothing new. It’s also a sign of the times. According to pretty much any survey you care to look at today, Americans work more hours (and take less time off) than any country except for South Korea. Meanwhile, real wages for blue- and middle-collar workers have flatlined over the past 30 years. To put it in a nutshell, all great Americans work harder than ever for paychecks that simply do not provide them with the earning power needed in today’s economy.

So when Uber suddenly appeared back in 2009 as a way for anyone with a smartphone and a decent automobile to make a few bucks on the side, it took off like wildfire. There was pushback, of course. Conventional taxi companies were less than thrilled at the idea of pretty much anyone horning in on their action. And regulation-loving municipalities all over the world leaned in to make sure everything was up to their various standards (and to get their cut of the action, of course).

But Uber turned out to be more than just a modern way for drivers and riders to get together. It also happened that the Uber app generated a lot of real-time information about logistics and movement through large urban centers. 

Today, we call that information “Big Data.” It wasn’t long before Uber executives realized they had powerful algorithms that could be used to transform any logistics operation. A realization that rapidly led the company to start looking at trucking in a serious way. And while I’m certainly not privy to Uber’s long-term plans, I’d bet that that data generated by this new Uber Freight service will be invaluable when the company decides to take its Otto autonomous truck business live at some point in the future.

But for now, it will be interesting to see how powerful a tool Uber Freight can be for owner-operators and small fleets. Owner-operators are– along with rock bands – the original “Gig Economy” operators. And they’ve been counted out more times than I care to recall over the past several years. But if new technology like Uber Freight can breathe much-needed life into the owner-operator market, that can only be a good thing on multiple levels.

My own suspicion is that with the increasing emphasis on faster logistics and last-mile deliveries, smaller fleets and owner-operators that are willing to adopt new tech and adapt to new business models may be able to deliver levels of flexibility and adaptability that big fleets cannot. It stands to reason these specialized, niche carriers will be able to charge a premium for those services, too.

Will those things happen? I have no way of knowing for sure. On the other hand, if Uber Freight does nothing more than put a few extra dollars in the pockets of hard-working people in trucking today, I won’t have a problem with that.  

Comments

  1. 1. Victor Gabris [ May 25, 2017 @ 05:23AM ]

    Article sounds good for the owner operator and small fleets, will have to wait and see if it helps the pioneers and now dieing breed of the transportation industry,

    Vic Gabris

  2. 2. Russ [ May 25, 2017 @ 10:45AM ]

    Big fleets will just jump on the wagon and drive those freight prices down also.

  3. 3. Bob R [ May 25, 2017 @ 01:21PM ]

    Well if they claim they are just an app or tech company as they did in the people moving side they are full of "stuff". They are a freight broker and should have broker authority along with necessary insurance and follow all other requirements including having process agents, etc.

 

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Author Bio

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Jack Roberts

Senior Editor

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

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