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ATBS CEO: Owner-operators should prepare for a ‘freight cliff’

The average owner-operator’s net income in 2019 was more than $63,000, according to American Truck Business Services.

The average owner-operator truck payment has gone from around $1,750 monthly 15 years ago to around $2,400 in 2019, according to ATBS. Image: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Owner-operators are seeing strong freight volumes now but should prepare for a “freight cliff,” according to Todd Amen, CEO and president of American Truck Business Services (ATBS).

That was one of the messages from Amen during ATBS’ annual Independent Contractor Benchmarks and Trends conference call on Wednesday.

The call was a recap of data collected from ATBS’ clients. Amen provided insight on 2019 benchmarks, including net income, average miles driven and freight rates, among other things.

Amen said the coronavirus pandemic has provided the trucking industry with a “huge opportunity” to move freight.

“Right now, trade is strong, America is hoarding goods. We’re buying toilet paper and everything that you can buy to be in our home for the foreseeable future; shelves have to be restocked,” Amen said. “But a lot depends on how long the coronavirus epidemic keeps us all locked up.”

Amen said if the pandemic continues for months on end, many Americans will be out of work that much longer, affecting consumer spending.

“Ultimately, what happens to the sentiment in America is we close our pocketbooks, we’re going to stop spending money because we need to survive,” Amen said. “We’re going to stop shopping except for the essentials. That means freight stops moving.”

Amen said owner-operators can prepare for “darker days” by drawing down on lines of credit from their bank, as well as negotiating with banks, suppliers and vendors on how they can extend payments.

ATBS, which specializes in providing financial assistance and advice to owner-operators, including tax preparation, has worked with more than 150,000 drivers since 1998.

Amen said owner-operators took a hit during 2019 because of economic conditions and other factors.

“It was a tougher year, the population shrank by just over 3%, we lost about 4,000 owner-operators,” Amen said. “But when you keep that in perspective, in 2018, we grew by 10,000 owner-operators, up 8% over 2017. The net between the 2018 to 2019 is we’re still up about 6,000 owner-operators.”

Other economic conditions Amen discussed included the average owner-operator net income in 2019, which was $63,722. It was a decrease of around 2% from 2018 net income of $65,000.

Amen said the slight decline does not reflect a bad year, considering how tough the freight environment was for most of 2019.

Owner-operators also saw an increase in the cost of insurance during 2019, as well as the average cost of truck payments, Amen said.

The average owner-operator truck payment has gone from around $1,750 monthly 15 years ago to $2,400 in 2019. The average cost of insurance was around $12,500 last year.

Overall, Amen said owner-operators are driving less miles and making more money than they were 10 to 15 years ago.

Drivers have gone from making 35 cents a mile to making almost 70 cents a mile, from making $4,000 a month to making close to $5,500 per month, and from driving 139,000 miles to driving 100,000 miles per year, Amen said.

“It’s still a tough job, but it’s gotten much better in the last 15 years, being an owner-operator,” Amen said.


  1. Ronald armillei

    You think this shortage is caused by the trucking short sited you must be.the stores have not ordered enough stock and the manufacturer has not inventoried enough .there are plenty of trucking companies to haul it .how dare you belittle the drivers .there’s not one thing you have we haven’t hauled.tell your stores and shippers to work more efficiently.and we will haul it oh by the way tell the shippers if the don’t raise there rates with the cost of insurance and maintenance more of us will go out of business .we can’t haul fir free wake up.

  2. MrBigR504

    One thing is for sure that most America has come to the understanding that the trucker is extremely detrimental to their survival! Empty shelves say a whoooole lot at a time like this right? Lets not let those fk’n us around forget who keeps this mofo moving! Without us, this situation would be waaaay worse!

    1. Noble1

      The current situation is extremely bad due to a curtailment in consumer demand . Don’t you ever forget who provides you with work ! If it were not for consumer demand , your services wouldn’t be needed .

      You’re no more important than anyone else .

      Furthermore , if some shelves are currently lacking goods it’s due to you not being able to keep up with the recent spike in demand for essentials . That speaks volumes about how disorganized your industry is . It’s unreliable in a time of need and can’t supply consumer needs if it increases . The trucking industry is a joke and the clowns are behind the wheel .

      In my humble opinion …………….

      1. Richard

        What an asshole. What other job keeps you in a steel box for weeks on end. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Trucking is the life line of America. Everything we use gets to us by trucks. You must be a Democrat.

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]