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Uber Freight publishes its inaugural Facility Insights Report

Facilities metrics will help carriers and shippers make data-driven decisions

(Photo: Uber Freight)

A few months after launching the Facility Ratings feature in its app, Uber Freight has published its first Facility Insights Report, a compendium and analysis of carriers’ ratings of shipper facilities that will be released on a regular cadence.

Digital freight brokerage apps continue to roll out new features and services to drive carrier engagement. Uber Freight’s Facility Ratings is intended to make the freight marketplace more transparent by leveraging crowd-sourced information about tens of thousands of facilities across the United States. In the Uber Freight app, drivers can rate facilities on a one to five star scale and leave notes about their visit.

When drivers are trying to find their next load, they can make decisions about what kind of length of haul they can handle and what rate per mile they should charge based on the efficiency of the facility, as reported by their fellow carriers. In theory, the market should punish inefficient shippers with higher rates and reward efficient shippers with lower rates.

Uber Freight has already found that loads from the highest-rated shippers are more liquid than freight tendered by less efficient shippers.

“On average, for a 4-star facility, 18 Uber Freight app users view one load before it gets booked. But for a 5-star facility, only 9 app users view the same load before it’s booked,” Uber Freight found. The report did not make a claim as to whether shippers with higher-rated facilities enjoy lower rates – the calculations would likely be complex because trucking spot rates vary substantially by geography and direction.

Some of Uber Freight’s findings will be familiar to anyone who talks to trucking carriers on a regular basis.

“The most important factor in informing carrier and driver ratings is speed,” Uber Freight wrote. ‘Fast loading’ was cited in 37.1 percent of all reviews, more than twice as often as the next most popular indicator, ‘friendly service.’

Other statistics in the report also conform to the marketplace logic that industry participants have grown accustomed to, but the granularity captured in Uber Freight’s statistics turns conventional wisdom into a quantifiable metric.

It makes sense that the ideal time for a driver to pick up a load is in the early morning hours on a Sunday, and that as a weekday stretches into late afternoon and early evening, a driver waiting to be loaded could be stressed out and worried about his/her hours of service. And indeed, Uber Freight’s Facility Insights Report confirms that the best pickup reviews are for loads picked up between midnight and 4:00 a.m. on Sunday morning – 4.59 stars on average – while the lowest ratings for pickups occur between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on weekdays, ranging from 4.19 to 4.28 stars.

While hours of service certainly play a role in those carrier preferences, the availability of parking is another factor that drivers have to take into account when planning their day. Parking spaces at rest stops start filling up in the early evening, which makes loads that pick up during that time unattractive. A long load time during the evening on a weekday will force a driver to sit at the shipper’s facility while parking options – and likely the number of hours of service – narrow.

In Uber Freight’s two-sided marketplace, both carriers and shippers can use the accumulated wisdom of driver sentiment to make decisions on both service and price.

Carriers get better intelligence on locations they’ve never been to. Before this information was available they might have relied on anecdotes from colleagues to judge the attractiveness of a particular facility/load; now they have crowdsourced and quantified data. When considering a particularly efficient shipper facility, a carrier may accept a lower rate per mile if the driver thinks he will be able to run more miles that day because he isn’t being detained. An inefficient facility may be skipped by a carrier or simply upcharged.

Shippers have similar options on both price and service. A shipper that discovers one of its facilities is perceived to be unattractive or inefficient by Uber Freight drivers can either work to improve the operations – service – of the facility or it can simply raise its bids on trucking capacity and accept higher costs.

Uber Freight also broke out its average facility ratings by geographical region. The Southwest and West had the highest average facility ratings at 4.32 stars and 4.31 stars, respectively, while the Northeast’s facilities were rated the lowest, averaging just 4.19 stars. On a state-by-state basis, New Mexico had the highest-rated facilities (4.71 stars on average) and Connecticut had the lowest-rated facilities (4.02 stars).

The facility ratings spread between shipper verticals was narrower than that of geography. The best-rated vertical, soft beverages, saw its facilities rated at an average of 4.37 stars, but the worst-rated category, food, generated an average of 4.17 stars.

Those findings suggest that geographic factors may play more of a role in load/unload times than the nature of the commodity that’s being hauled. Regions with higher population density have more traffic and congestion, both on the road and at shipper facilities, which are likely also under pressure to deliver higher throughput.

Crowded regions make for crowded facilities – that may be one of the lessons for carriers and shippers in the Facility Insights Report. It may be the case that shippers simply need to spend more time and effort making facilities in congested areas as efficient as possible, and the gains achieved in facilities in other regions may not come as easy for distribution centers and cross-docks in places like Connecticut.

That brings us to the ultimate question – what do drivers want? A full 89 percent of the positive facility reviews cited quick loading and unloading. The next highest-cited-indicator was ‘friendly staff,’ but that was only mentioned in 11 percent of positive reviews.

Strikingly, reasons cited in carriers’ negative reviews of facilities were far more diverse than the reasons mentioned in positive reviews. This conforms to what’s been called the Anna Karenina principle, after the first line in Tolstoy’s novel: “Every happy family is alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” All of the best loads have fast times and friendly staff, but a range of factors, from substandard facility amenities and garbled billing and paperwork to inaccessible lots, confusing detention protocols, or a sloppy loading job can make a load go bad.
“The best way for shippers to deliver a great experience and encourage drivers to return time and time again is straightforward – improving speed within their facilities,” Uber Freight’s report concluded.

John Paul Hampstead

John Paul conducts research on multimodal freight markets and holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Michigan. Prior to building a research team at FreightWaves, JP spent two years on the editorial side covering trucking markets, freight brokerage, and M&A.