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‘A shockingly good year’ paid off well for owner-operator income

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Updated Aug 18, 2021

WTI flatbed truck on highwayThanks largely to a second-half 2020 rebound, owner-operator flatbed haulers saw annual income rise more than 10%, topping $75,000, based on ATBS client averages.photo by Max Heine

Trucking’s strong rebound after the initial COVID-19 shutdowns yielded a year of strong earnings for owner-operators in all major segments, based on ATBS client averages.

The average net income in 2020 for leased and independent operators combined jumped from almost $63,000 in 2019 to $67,742 in 2020, thanks to pandemic-related economic changes. Flatbedders fared best, with a 10.5% increase.

“It was a shockingly good year,” said Todd Amen, president and CEO of ATBS, the nation’s largest owner-operator financial services company. “In a year when so many businesses struggled and many failed and went broke, thank goodness things turned out good for the truckers.”  

Owner-operator net income in dollars for 2019 and 2020 across all segments, independents, dry van, flatbed, and reefer bar graphEach major segment tracked by financial services provider ATBS saw healthy gains in net income last year.With the pandemic’s emergence early in the year, ATBS encouraged clients to run as many miles as they could “because it was one of those years where we had no idea what was going to go on,” Amen said. And they did, logging 3,200 more miles in 2020 than in 2019.

As the economy showed signs of rebounding in the second half and fleets reported trouble finding drivers, capacity was tight, so spot market rates rose in 2020's second half, analysts have said. Shifting freight patterns likewise diverted freight to the spot market, another contributor to spot rates gains.

Among other factors in owner-operators' favor, Amen said, driving became more efficient once the pandemic sent the economy into lockdown, taking many vehicles off the highways. That reduced congestion, idling times and fuel costs.

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