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E-drivers

Say what you will about E-commerce, but the stuff listed on Internet sites isn't delivered through a computer modem. It has to move by truck.Still, the new approach to orders does present a new type o...


SOME DELIVERY VAN: Courier companies like UPS (pictured here) are using larger and larger trucks to handle the increase in package volumes.
SOME DELIVERY VAN: Courier companies like UPS (pictured here) are using larger and larger trucks to handle the increase in package volumes.

Say what you will about E-commerce, but the stuff listed on Internet sites isn’t delivered through a computer modem. It has to move by truck.

Still, the new approach to orders does present a new type of business opportunity for Canadian truckers – and it isn’t necessarily limited to driving medium-duty trucks. Believe it or not, says Gary Breininger, executive director of the Canadian Courier Association, the courier industry does have opportunities for experienced Class-A drivers.

“They are limited now, but the larger companies do have linehaul drivers,” Breininger says. “But as the industry continues to penetrate the supply chain market, there certainly will be more opportunities.”

Todd Shepley, 34, from Harrow, Ont., has spent 13 of his 15 years as a professional driver hauling for United Parcel Service. Starting at about 7 p.m., Shepley pilots a single-axle Mack and an A-train with two 28-foot trailers on a route between Windsor, Chatham, and Toronto. Including pick-up and drop-off time, and barring traffic delays, driving the route fills Shepley’s eight-hour shift. The thing he loves most about his job, he says, is the stability.

“You never worry about where your next load is coming from, and there are no layoffs and no downtime,” Shepley says. “It’s always a clean run; everything is timed, so you are never rushed or left waiting to get loaded or unloaded. Everything is very professional.”

Obviously, breakdowns can’t be tolerated in the courier business, so the equipment is kept in top condition. In fact, Shepley can’t remember the last time he had to call back to the office for a tow truck.

“If anything did break, you just write it up and it is fixed that day,” he says. “And you don’t wait around while your truck is in the shop, you just go and get another truck.”

The courier industry is growing quickly. According to research from the CCA, the Canadian courier industry currently makes some 1.4 million shipments per day, and just under 50 per cent of those deliveries are classified as “express”, which usually means before noon the next day. In financial terms, the industry generates approximately $5.12 billion in revenue every year. Between 1999 and 2000, it is estimated the volume of cargo handled by the industry grew by 5.3 per cent, while revenues increased by 10.3 per cent. Looking to the future, between this year and 2005, the industry is forecast to grow at 6.5 per cent annually in terms of volume and 10.2 per cent in terms of revenue.

While it all needs trucks, the move to an Internet-based economy is actually changing the way goods move from the manufacturer to the consumer. A new economic model is emerging that sees consumers ordering small quantities directly from the manufacturer, rather than from a retail middleman. As a result, Breininger says, shippers are increasingly turning to companies that can offer what he calls, “end-to-end, Web-based logistics solutions.”

When someone generally thinks of a courier driver, they think of a guy in a car or van, running into an office building with an envelope or small package. But while overnight package and document delivery is still the core business for courier companies, it is not uncommon today for courier companies to handle the one- and two-skid loads that traditionally went to LTL carriers. Plus, due to the simple increase in the volume of packages they handle, the larger courier companies now need to utilize an increasing number of tractor-trailer combinations just to move the mountains of packages and envelopes from depot to depot or back and forth to the airport.

“There is a shift taking place in how people use transportation services. Supply chain management is being embraced,” Breininger says. “Ten years ago, it would have been unheard of for a courier company to use any vehicle larger than a half-ton. Now five-ton delivery trucks are common, and we are now seeing the larger companies – UPS, Loomis, FedEx – using 40-foot trailers all the time. Couriers are no longer relegated to just small shipments.”

But while the opportunities may be there in the courier industry for “A” drivers, are they worth taking?

“If a professional driver is going to make a move like that, they are definitely going to take a hit financially,” says Remo Spizziri, owner of Mississauga, Ont.-based Primex Courier. “On average, a good AZ driver can make $15 to $18 an hour. That is doing city work in a five-ton truck, usually delivering full loads. Plus no loading or unloading.”

But even at $18 an hour, acknowledges Spizziri, a driver’s gross pay is going to be substantially lower than the monthly $5,000 that some owner/operators make. In fact, Spizziri says he had a former owner/operator who tried to make the switch, without success.

“He found he couldn’t make a go of it; it was a matter of money,” he says. “He was used to having that $2,500 or $3,000 coming in every two weeks.”

But long-haul drivers have to make a lot of money, he adds, because their expenses are so huge. Then there are the quality of life issues. It doesn’t make sense to simply compare the money, Spizziri says, because you are talking about two very different lifestyles.

“If you are a linehaul driver for a courier company, you are home for dinner every night,” he says. “But if you are a long-haul owner/operator, the hours are insane, your sleep patterns are a mess, you are away from your family for days at a time, you have things like safety and maintenance to worry about, operating expenses. There is so much more to think about.”

Shepley can confirm that. As the father of a six-year-old and an eight-year-old, he says the fact he comes home every day allows him to play a more significant role in his children’s lives. Growing up in a trucking family, Shepley has first-hand knowledge of the demands of long-haul trucking. He even lived that lifestyle for a while at the beginning of his career when he hauled auto parts into the U.S. But he wouldn’t trade the job he has even if it meant more money.

“I have a couple of friends who have their own trucks,” Shepley explains. “They are going all the time. They have extra pressure. And they don’t have the time off I have, or the benefits. But they like that, and some people just feel they want to own their own truck.”

Of course, some owner/operators love to travel further afield than a traditional courier job will allow. Those who put in the time and manage their businesses properly can make a decent buck. But for some, the job-related stresses of a long-haul life can raise questions about whether there is a better life.

That question promises to loom ever larger in the coming years if the courier industry continues to draw on business traditionally given to other for-hire carriers.

According to Linda Gauthier, director of programs for the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council, money will likely play less of a role in determining where Class-A drivers go in the future.

“Whether or not someone stays in a particular job is always dependent on a number of factors,” Gauthier says. “Once salary is settled, other considerations take over, and people will leave over them. A person’s work environment is something that they have to feel good about.

“Companies have to start doing things now to make sure they can attract and retain the skilled people they need. And it doesn’t help if your company is not thought of as a good place to work or if your industry is not thought of as a good industry to work in. And the trucking industry does not have a good reputation right now.”

Regardless of the money issue, that bad reputation may end up pushing experienced drivers out of other trucking jobs to places like the courier industry, Gauthier says, if that industry can offer things like more personal time, the possibility for promotion, recognition for good work, and a feeling of respect. As the driver population ages, the trucking industry could well see some of its older drivers – the ones with their mortgages paid off – opting for a less-demanding job that allows them to stay behind the wheel for a few more years.

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