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Marketplace Tech Blogs

Can shipping freight across the country be as easy as finding a ride across town?

Tracey Samuelson Aug 23, 2018
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The hailing options for Uber aren’t just sedan, SUV and pool. The company has a trucking business as well called Uber Freight. Instead of pairing riders with cars, Uber has built a separate platform to pair shipments with trucks that can deliver them. Tracey Samuelson spoke with Deborah Lockridge, editor-in-chief of Heavy Duty Trucking and Truckinginfo.com. Lockridge says Uber sees opportunity in what’s called the “spot freight” market, linking shippers and truckers, typically for one-off shipments. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Deborah Lockridge: A lot of larger trucking companies and shippers have contracts in place, long-term contracts to handle freight. So spot freight, which makes up about a quarter of the freight moved, is often moved by these smaller companies, what we call owner-operators. And that’s where this freight-matching technology has a real place. 

Tracey Samuelson: And so why do you think Uber would want to be in this business? How similar or different might hailing a truck be to hailing a cab?

Lockridge: Well, on the surface you would think that there should be a lot of similarities, right? You’re matching the person who wants to get a ride with the person who has a vehicle. And on the freight side, you’re matching the company that has a vehicle open to the shipper that wants to ship the freight. But there’s a lot more going on in the background when it comes to truck loads. There are a lot of regulations on the federal level, state level. There are a lot more concerns about what type of freight it is. The same kind of company that moves that load of freight to Walmart is not necessarily going to move a flatbed load of steel.

Samuelson: And Uber is not the first company who has had this idea, right? There are companies doing similar things, mostly growing out of the trucking industry as opposed to the tech industry?

Lockridge: Yeah, using technology to help make that match between shipper and freight is not a new idea. In fact, there’s one company that started back in the ’70s at truck stops using TV monitors and phones called Dial-a-Truck to kind of help with this matching up. They’re still around. They now have an app. They have a website. So there’s a lot of competition in this space. You’ve got tech people that think they can come in and do a better job because they know the technology, and they may well be able to. But there’s some skepticism about whether they have the true understanding of the trucking industry to really make it work.

Samuelson: Do you think Uber Freight will be successful?

Lockridge: It may well be. They’ve hired a lot of people actually from the brokerage industry to help with sort of all that back-end needed behind the actual app. But, you know, there’s so many startups that come and go. It’s really hard to tell at this point.

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