Broker David Rivers experiences life on the road in a quest to better understand what drivers experience
David Rivers is a freight brokerage expert with 18 years of experience. He’s moved hundreds of thousands of shipments. While he is an expert in moving freight from behind the desk, he never knew what it was like to be in the cab of a truck. Until he took an unusual step, tagging along with a driver to experience the road for himself.
Rivers is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Arrive Logistics, a freight brokerage that came into the industry with a fresh perspective. It models its business on the idea that carrier partnerships are at the forefront of everything it does.
It’s a philosophy Rivers has lived through much of his career. “I learned from a former mentor of mine, Paul Loeb, that ‘the carrier comes first.’”
That is how he ended up on Interstate 30 carrying a load from Little Rock, AR, to Dallas, Texas and back again.
“I doubt most people consider what a driver goes through to get the job done,” he says. Despite how critical they are, few non-asset based freight brokers have insight into the trucker’s experience. Rivers, however, recognizes the driver is a key player. “I wanted to show a sign of respect to drivers and understand what they really do.”
He reached out to Wayne Thornhill, a fleet manager and director of Baxter Logistics. Shortly after, he was scheduled to ride along for the round-trip route.
On the day of the ride-along, Rivers was up at one in the morning so that he and Thornhill could be on the road by 3 a.m.
“I jumped in the cab and Wayne told me that he was prepared to make one stop on each leg of the journey.”
Rivers insisted they do it the way Thornhill always did.
There were immediate things that Rivers noticed. “Gaining speed in a truck is tough. You feel like you are barely moving. Eighty thousand pounds does not just get up and go. In a car, you can stop 10 times in a minute. In a truck, you earn momentum.”
The pressure of the clock is another immediate. As they start out on the road, Rivers goes through a mental checklist of potential obstacles. Traffic, weather, breakdowns. All things that could set them back.
“We were running on a very rigid schedule. Roughly calculating the distance and average miles per hour told me there wasn’t much cushion built in for any deviation to the schedule.”
It’s an unpredictable job held to the standards of the predictable. The only time truckers earn money is when they’re driving. “Something small like traffic delays or paperwork can take 10 minutes or it can take over two hours and it eats into your clock,” Rivers explains.
Federal regulations prohibit truckers from driving for more than 11 hours in a 14-hour window. Small disruptions can cause a ripple effect. A driver is in the right place at the wrong time and the ability to continue on with their intended schedule vanishes.
“There’s a lot we take for granted. From healthy food options to easy access to restrooms to even just taking a moment to zone out. Those conveniences are scarce for those who make their livelihood on the road,” says Rivers.
On some level, we all know that we have what we have because truckers bring those products from point A to point B. But we might not fully realize just how integral truckers are to our modern way of living.
According to the American Trucking Association, “Nearly 71% of all the freight tonnage moved in the U.S. goes on trucks. Without the industry and our truck drivers, the economy would come to a standstill. To move 10.5 billion tons of freight annually requires over 3.6 million heavy-duty Class 8 trucks and over 3.5 million truck drivers.”
Yet, in many ways, truckers are quietly excluded from the comfortable, modern lives that they make possible for us. As Rivers points out, “Until you experience it, you don’t realize how significant the sacrifices are that drivers make. One trip with Wayne and my back was sore for days.”
The solitary nature of the job also struck Rivers. “I found Wayne to be great company, but I can only imagine what the isolation would feel like as a driver. You work hard. You are far from your family. It makes you think.”
While there are some things that can make the life of a trucker easier, a lot of that comes down to their transportation partners. That’s why drivers want to work with a shipper of choice. Paying fast, keeping trucks moving, creating flexible delivery and pickup windows, offering overnight parking, these are the kinds of accommodations that make a difference. And it’s not just the shipper, this extends to the brokers too.
“People use the word ‘partnership’ a lot and often it is just another buzzword. I just focus on being someone you can count on,” says Rivers.
“It goes both ways. We appreciate shippers and brokers that don’t just think on a transactional level. If you can be flexible and accommodate us we will do the same for you,” says Thornhill.
As a broker, Rivers knows that he is uniquely positioned to make the driver’s job slightly less turbulent by partnering with quality shippers and being mindful of who does the heavy lifting. “I feel obligated to keep in mind that the drivers have a challenging job that is essential to our way of living.”