Fleet Management

A Tale Of Two Owner-Operators: Surviving The Downturn

October 15, 2001

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Scott Breon is definitely feeling the economic pinch. The owner-operator from State College, Pa., reported that load availability is down and his deadhead miles are up. He’s seen rates going west drop as low as 65 cents. Fuel is expensive. So are some other costs, like taxes and tolls.

“I think $30 to cross the George Washington Bridge is a little far-fetched,” he said, “especially when they’re not maintaining the road surface.”
At least Breon is still trucking. Owner-operators are often the first – and hardest – hit by high fuel costs and economic downturns. This time was no different. Thousands have parked their trucks. Before it’s over, still more will walk away.
Breon says he’s surviving by tightening his belt. When he saw freight rates fall in some areas, he re-negotiated the lease contract with is carrier, switching from percentage of revenue to a set mileage rate.
He’s saving fuel by driving slower, watching tire pressure, and letting the truck idle only when high humidity makes it impossible to sleep without air conditioning. He shops for cheaper fuel (“if there is such a thing”) and the most economical places to get service on his truck.
Pearl and Stan Vos, Branson, Mo., took a bolder step. Some 18 months ago, when the company they were leased to went broke, the couple got their own operating authority.
Stan said business was slow at first, then they “lucked” into a regular run that many other truckers had turned down. He said he’d rather not disclose the details, but explained that the load requires extra work but pays well enough to offset the deadhead if they can’t find anything coming back. They’ve also found some local runs that pay well because mileage is low.
“We’re shooting for the best per-mile dollar rather than high miles,” he explained, “and we keep our deadhead mileage down.”

This is an excerpt from “Outlook 2002: The Hard Climb Back” in the October issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.

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