Have you ever noticed how many flatbed tractor-trailer rigs travel down the interstate with trailers that are only partially filled? It is a rather common sight if you are paying attention. It turns out that much of the unused space on flatbed trailers doesn’t have to remain empty. That realization has sparked a new ‘partial load’ market that could revolutionize open-deck trucking.
A number of online platforms have emerged in the last few years to take advantage of empty space on open deck trailers. These platforms act as brokers if you will, matching independent contractors with freight forwarders and shippers. Truck drivers benefit by getting more cargo to haul while shippers enjoy discounted rates by using only a portion of the available space on a flatbed.
A Profitable Venture for Both
Partially empty trailers are nothing new in the trucking industry. However, empty deck space is especially troublesome for flatbed truckers. Truck drivers working flatbed jobs spend a considerable amount of time securing their loads and covering them with tarps, explains Ohio-based Mytee Products. That is time spent not turning the wheels. And when the wheels are not turning, truckers aren’t making money.
The problem is exacerbated when a trucker has a trailer with empty deck space. The trucker still has to wrangle with tiedown straps, chains, and tarps regardless of how much space on the deck is being used. It is not that much work to add an extra load or two to an existing load already on the deck. Meanwhile, increasing the volume of cargo on a single deck increases the amount of money the trucker makes.
It should be obvious that filling up empty deck space is profitable for the truck driver. It is also profitable for shippers. Imagine you are a shipper being forced to pay for the entire deck of a flatbed truck even though your cargo only requires one third of the available space. Would you be happy about paying full price? Of course not.
The idea behind the partial load concept is to offer shippers lower prices by combining their loads with loads from other shippers. If a broker can line up three shippers all needing just one third of a truck’s available deck space, they each pay only one third of the cost. The trucker gets full pay while the shippers only pay for what they need. It is a win for everyone involved.
There Are Downsides
As attractive as the partial load model is, it does have its downsides. First, multiple loads have to be going in the same general direction for the truck driver to make a decent profit. They do not all have to be delivered to the same city, but you cannot have one load heading west while another goes east.
Second, shippers can impose different cargo control rules on truck drivers. One load might require a specific kind of tiedown configuration while another can be secured in a number of different ways. Shipper requirements can make extra work for truckers depending on their required configurations.
All in all, the potential problems that could arise from partial loads are not enough to dissuade truck drivers and shippers from employing the model. Partial-load shipping is proving itself to be a rather valuable tool to truckers looking to maximize deck space and shippers looking to get a cheaper price on smaller loads.
Could this new model of flatbed trucking takeoff? Absolutely. We could look back on it 10 years from now and see how partial-load trucking revolutionized the open-deck market. That wouldn’t be a bad thing.