Truckload carrier US Xpress Enterprises Inc. said today it has introduced a program with generous financial incentives for current and prospective team drivers, a telling reminder of how valuable team drivers have become in a world of constrained truck capacity, government regulations that place a tight digital lid on driver operations, and customers who expect their shipments to arrive in 1 to 2 days rather than 3 or 4 days as in the past.
Privately held US Xpress said the program, called "TeamMax," could translate into as much as $50,000 in total bonuses for two-man teams. The formula to get to the upper threshold works like this: For every 60,000 miles the team runs, they will split a $2,000 bonus and each earn one week of paid vacation valued at $500 per driver. A team that drives 60,000 miles four times in a year will receive $4,000 per driver and $1,000 each in equivalent vacation time. If the team chooses not to take vacation time, they will be paid $500 per driver for each week of unused accrued and earned vacation at the end of each year. Once the team reaches $48,000 in bonus and vacation pay, each driver will receive one more final payout of $1,000.
Danna Bailey, a US Xpress spokeswoman, said teams compose about 15 percent of the company's revenue. However, given the growing demands of e-commerce on US Express' network, "we would be happy to double that number," she said.
In addition, drivers in the program can earn up to 82 cents per mile, are first in line for the newest trucks, and get priority status at truck service centers, which, in turn, minimizes down time, the company said. Jeff Tucker, CEO of freight broker Tucker Company Worldwide Inc., said the US Xpress initiative is worth about $10,000 more than a similar plan offered by one of its competitors, whom he did not identify.
For years, team drivers have been in high demand and in short supply. But demand has heated up anew in the wake of the federal government's mandate to require that virtually all trucks be equipped with Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) to digitally track a driver's compliance with federal Hours of Service (HOS) requirements, which cap a driver's behind-the-wheel time to 11 consecutive hours within a 14-hour workday. A two-person driving team can make those runs in one day as a second driver would take the seat once the first nears the allowable limit.
ELD enforcement will be ratcheted up April 1, when state safety inspectors can begin writing out-of-service orders for non-compliance. Historically, many drivers have "fudged" their information in paper logbooks to run longer hours than allowed.
ELD compliance, combined with the increasingly expedited nature of deliveries due to e-commerce demand, have put teams in the proverbial driver's seat, Tucker said. "The big guys all want market share, and have been stumped," Tucker said. "Owner-operator life is getting easier by the day.
With investors and analysts demanding growth from the publicly traded truckload carriers, industry executives have no choice but to "pay the piper," Tucker said, adding that "I don't think we've seen the end of this."
Back in 2014, US Xpress fired one of the first salvos in the driver pay wars, hiking solo drivers salaries by 13 percent, well above the industry norm at the time. Since then, as the driver market has tightened, increases of that extent are more commonplace.