App-Enabled Freight Platforms Help Small Carriers Find Loads, Boost Efficiency

Large fleets typically have been the first to benefit from the spread of technology in trucking, but digital freight brokers are working to extend some of the same advantages to smaller carriers and independent drivers. Companies such as Convoy, Uber Freight and Transfix have introduced app-based freight platforms designed to make it easier and faster for small carriers to find and book loads and handle much of their business on their smartphones. These digital freight networks still are relatively new to the industry, but they have attracted significant support from investors. Armstrong Associates estimates that freight load-matching startups have drawn about $455 million in funding since 2011, said Haley O’Donnell, an analyst at the research firm.

The investment comes at a time when small carriers and owner-operators are in high demand as the transportation industry contends with tight freight capacity. I think digital freight-matching companies are taking note and really trying to cater to a solid, consistent driver base,” O’Donnell said, adding that the technology can streamline communication and drivers can benefit from quick, intuitive, user-friendly interfaces. “The companies that have been listening to drivers and testing out driver-friendly services are on the right track.” Bob Chappuis, senior operations manager for Uber Freight, said that as the market tightens, connecting shippers with drivers becomes even more valuable. Uber Freight also provides drivers with upfront information on a load’s rate. “Most brokerage firms would refuse to provide a known or transparent rate to the driver,” Chappuis said, adding that Uber Freight sets the price for a load based on supply dynamics.

Amir Shaw, an owner-operator based in Cameron, Texas, started using Uber Freight about a year ago and now uses it to book 90% of his loads. “We don’t want to not be able to make money on a Saturday or Sunday because the broker isn’t answering the phone.” Digital freight brokers such as Uber Freight have designed their technology primarily for small carriers and owner-operators. (Uber Freight) Shaw said he appreciates the upfront information the app provides, as opposed to negotiating with a broker for freight listed on a load board. “That means you’re leaving money on the table.” Besides rates, freight-matching apps typically provide detailed information on each load. “Before I book a load, I know what the load is and if it’s loaded on a pallet or if it is floor-loaded,” Shaw said of Uber Freight. “Knowing the information gives you an opportunity to look at a load on a case-by-case basis and know if it is a good load or a bad load.” Uber Freight aims to pay drivers in less than seven days with no fee.

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