Tim Thomas, a driver and partner in FW Trucking Co. said his Visalia-based company has been booking hauls from Southern California to Fresno through Uber Freight for about the past six months, and he’s happy with the service. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
Say what you want about Uber, but the online company that popularized ridesharing has managed to turn industries on its ears.
It began with disrupting taxi and car services, offering people a way to order rides from drivers using their own cars.
From that not-so-humble beginning, the company created UberRUSH, a package-deliver service available in some cities, and UberEATS, in which drivers deliver food from restaurants to homes and offices, including many in Fresno.
And on Aug. 3, the company formally announced its latest venture — a service connecting truck drivers with people needing to move freight — was launching in California.
Uber Freight began quietly late last fall in Texas, where 11 percent of the nation’s truck freight travels, to test out the concept, said Jeff Ogren, head of driver community and partnerships for Uber Freight.
It went well enough there that for about the past three months, the concept was tested in parts of California, Chicago and the Midwest, the Carolinas and Georgia in a sort of “stealth mode” until the expansion was announced earlier this month, he said.
“These new areas represent where drivers like to run, which makes sense: These regions, including Texas, cover over a quarter of the country’s drivers and freight,” according to a news release.
“While today we still have most of our loads in Texas, over the coming months drivers can expect to see an ever-increasing number of loads available on the app in these new markets.”
But Uber Freight isn’t available completely across the regions where the program has expanded. In California for example, the service exists only for goods hauled to or from the greater Los Angeles area and the San Francisco and Sacramento areas, not to the Central Valley, Central Coast and areas in the state’s most southern and northern regions.
But that doesn’t mean truckers from the Valley and those other areas aren’t getting new business through Uber Freight.
The service is intended for larger trucks that can make short-haul deliveries or long-haul deliveries, even those going to or coming from other states.
As such, Ogren said, the service can be used to book hauling jobs by truck drivers from anywhere in the U.S. heading to or from Uber Freight’s focus areas.
“We’ve helped carriers and their drivers haul everything from oranges to furniture, and we’ve been blown away by the [trucking] community’s feedback. Our carriers and their drivers love Uber Freight’s transparency and fast payment,” states a company press release.
One of the drivers sharing that opinion is Tim Thomas, a partner in FW Trucking Co. in Visalia, who over the last six months has been regularly hauling loads of wooden pallets from Pico Rivera to Fresno in trips arranged through the Uber Freight app.
He said Uber contacted him about a half year ago and explained the service, which essentially functions like existing brokerage services that connect truckers with loads that need to be transported and arranges for the drivers or their trucking services to be paid, Thomas said.
Right off the bat, he recounted, the Uber program was somewhat different in that everything could be arranged over cell phones, which included drivers submitting their bills and proof of delivery by photographing those documents with their smart phones and sending them in via emails.
In addition, while brokers generally post their excess freight needing to be delivered through online “load boards” — where drivers look for loads they want to pick up and deliver — Uber tracks drivers’ cell phones, not only so customers can keep track of where their loads are, but also to keep tabs on drivers between loads, so the company can call or text them to inquire if are interested in picking up loads near them, Thomas said.
And mostly the items Uber is trying to move are things that need to be moved at the last minute and quickly, “usually at a premium price,” which the drivers also agree upon through an online or computer app, he added.
“I was curious. I wanted to see how it was set up,” Thomas said of his decision to try booking jobs through Uber Freight. “New players on the block, you want to check them out real good. You want to make sure you’re paid.”
And as truck delivery brokers go, Uber checked out well, he said, noting, “Electronically, they do a fantastic job in tracking their trucks and things like that. They are state of the art in tracking their freight.”
Getting paid quicker
He also praised the company’s billing system, in part because his administrative staff doesn’t have to deal with mailing paper bills and other documents to a broker, and FW Trucking usually gets paid within 15 days, a short time compared to some brokers who don’t send him his payments for as long as 90 days or more.
“I’m not having to worry on covering my operating expanses” or to draw from a credit line to pay drivers and cover other immediate expenses while waiting for regular brokers to send him his payments, Thomas said.
Not that FW Trucking is foregoing standard trucking brokers, but Thomas estimated 25-35 percent of his brokered loads these days are being arranged through the Uber Freight app.
Several brokers contacted to discuss Uber Freight’s potential impact on California’s trucking industry declined to comment or said they had not heard of the service, as did operators of some Valley trucking companies and officials with the California Trucking Association.
Ron Faulkner, president and CEO of Faulkner Trucking in Tulare, which hauls freight and books freight for other trucking businesses, said he hadn’t heard much about Uber Freight, but “we don’t seem to be having no issues. I don’t think it’s going to hurt trucking.”
For his part, Thomas said he has seen some effect of Uber’s presence in the industry already, as some transport brokers are modernizing their systems, adding new technology.
And Faulkner said competition from Uber Freight could triggers changes from existing bookers to make them more competitive.
But that’s not unusual, he said, as “We are constantly changing in the trucking industry,” which is particularly true of “small guys” like his business.
But Uber Freight isn’t open to all trucks — at least not yet.
Currently the company isn’t booking any loads that need to be transported in tanker, flatbed or refrigerated trailers. So all items have to be transported inside enclosed trailers 48-53 feet long.
“But later on we are thinking of letting those [other] types of trailer participate,” Ogren said.
There is an online vetting process to being selected as a driver for Uber Freight, though Ogren ended the interview before explaining that process.
In addition, drivers need valid commercial drivers licenses, good safety records and — if they don’t own the trucks they drive — the authority to book trucking jobs through Uber Freight, he said.
As for when the company may expand its primary start and destination points in California, particularly in the Valley, Uber Freight’s response came in the form of an email stating, “Currently, we aren’t focused on building density in the Central Valley but hope to continue to rapidly expand our efforts in the future.”