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Top 5 challenges for owner operators

Relay recently spoke to owner operators in Ontario, California for the California Trucking Show. They sounded off on a wide range of issues, from planning ahead to find parking, being forced to travel out of state for fuel deals, side-eyeing the driving habits of new truckers, and much more.

Here are the top 5 challenges owner operators in California face:

Parking 

Parking is a huge concern for drivers throughout the U.S., and it’s one that looms particularly large in California, which is one of the most congested areas in the country. While it takes many drivers a minimum of 30 minutes per day to find parking, California drivers said it takes roughly two hours, on average, to find a space.

Spending so much time looking for parking can cost drivers money as these futile searches can cut into their service hours, a problem exacerbated by the threat of fines for parking on highway ramps and other unsafe areas.

One owner operator at the show, Vee Mirzoyan of Duluth, Georgia, decided to take an entrepreneurial approach to the parking shortage and explore the possibilities of buying land and converting it into parking lots for drivers. 

Safety

Despite the measures taken to make parking safer that came from the shocking death of driver Jason Rivenburg in 2009, nearly every driver we interviewed expressed worry about being attacked at unsafe truck lots.

They cited the rise of addicts and unhoused people near these locations, but also worried more about the “liquid gold” they carried in their fuel tanks than for the actual cargo in their trucks. One driver told how he bypasses certain truck stops due to personal safety concerns. 

In addition to the dangers posed by the lack of safe parking options, drivers at the show ran down many of the hazards they face on the road. One of things that scare them most? The recklessness of their fellow drivers.

Many motorists don’t really understand or respect how dangerous heavy-duty trucks can be, they say, and although they expressed concern for the safety of everyone they share the road with, they also acknowledge that, as driver Arturo Conforte said, “My truck is a missile. I am going to win every time.”

Detention

Many drivers also expressed frustration about the amount of extra time they spend on the dock waiting to load and unload their truck. Although many drivers get detention pay for delays of more than two hours, they’d often find themselves waiting eight hours or more, especially at the port. 

Many of the veteran drivers interviewed expressed concern of new drivers and said they, were “too focused on money” and would often drive recklessly to make as many deliveries as possible within the service hours allocated for them that day.

A common concern was trucking companies are pushing drivers who don’t have the training and experience to know better to disregard their safety on the road to ensure timely deliveries. It’s gotten to the point that some owner operators insist on parking as far away from company drivers as possible, preferring to park between fellow owner operators to keep themselves safe. 

Laws 

Many California-based drivers say that regulation has made it harder for owner operators to run their businesses. For example, the state’s hours of service rules for interstate travel stipulate that drivers can remain on duty for up to 14 hours per day, but can only drive for 11 of them. This makes it more difficult for drivers to maximize the number of deliveries they can make during their shifts. 

In addition, the state’s newly established Assembly Bill 5 (commonly known as AB5) re-classifies many owner operators from independent contractors to full-fledged employees of the companies they work for.

What does that mean for truckers? Although many drivers will receive benefits and many of the payroll protections associated with full-time employment, the new law will also limit the work options available to many owner operators – and make the hiring of those owner operators much more expensive for carriers.

Fuel 

Generally speaking, working as an owner operator has become much more expensive for many truckers in California and throughout the U.S., and many of the drivers we spoke with cited fuel costs as a major reason why. As of October 17, the average price of fuel in California hovered around $6.50 per gallon, well above the national average of $5.34 per gallon. This has led many truckers to search fuel apps, like Relay for the best prices, or to travel outside the state in search of fuel deals. 

Owner operators have definitely felt the squeeze. Owner operator Mirzoyan has seen fuel costs eat up to one-third of his profits, and his lack of solid broker relationships has made it harder to find enough quality loads to make up the difference.

Some experienced drivers, like 20-year veteran Conforte, have learned to consider the net price of fuel to make sure they’re paying the lowest prices possible.

All of these issues have made operations much more difficult for drivers than ever before. Although many of them love their jobs and remain dedicated to maintaining their roles within the supply chain, some may have had enough – at least in the Golden State. Says Conforte, “It’s too hard to be a driver in this state. I’m leaving.” 

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