It might be called relay driving or more simply “swapping.” But, whatever you call it, those who drive in a relay trucking system have one thing in common: they really like it.
Relay drivers say the system has lifestyle benefits that other CDL trucking jobs don’t have. Here’s Drive My Way’s look at relay driving, how it works and why drivers like it so much.
How It Works
One driver leaves from one city, another driver leaves from a different city, and they meet with their loads at a halfway point set up by a dispatcher. As the drivers approach the designated city, they call each other to determine an exact meeting point.
There are variations of the system, but true relay drivers swap trailers at the meeting point then turn around and head to their home terminals with the new load, taking it closer to its final destination.
The big upside for relay drivers: They’re home every night. And while UPS and FedEx specialize in relay driving, they’re not the only companies doing it.
Laydon Cooper is a company driver running team for Old Dominion Freight Line. He’s had a CDL trucking job for 26 years. While he doesn’t drive relay himself, many of his Old Dominion colleagues do. They like it for its flexibility, the home time and the fact that they usually swap with the same driver each time, Cooper says.
True relay drivers are home every day, says Cooper. So for drivers who value home time, relay is ideal.
Relay drivers also tend to be paid very well by the mile. Cooper says singles make 61 cents per mile on average at Old Dominion. They also receive “drop and hook” pay. As a result, they tend to make more money (and receive better benefits) than other types of drivers.
Another big perk of relay: Drivers do not touch freight, so they do not have to spend hours loading or unloading.
“You don’t got to sit at a shipper’s dock for five or six hours while they’re jerking you around,” says Cooper. “You have a manifest that lists the number of pieces of freight on the trailer. Dock workers at our terminal do the loading and unloading.”
For “drop and hook” pay, Old Dominion drivers receive $1.50 for each hook and unhook of a trailer they do and $1.50 for each time they fuel the tractor, Cooper says.
Desiree Wood, president of Real Women in Trucking, Inc., drove relay for about six months as a contractor for U.S. Mail. She loved that she didn’t have the hours of loading and unloading that you have with most OTR jobs. All she had to do was drive.
Wood drove her full 10-and-a-half-hour shift
When it ended, another driver was waiting to take over the load. Wood was able to get a good night’s sleep in a motel room for a change. Any loading or unloading she did was minimal, she adds.
“I kept the freight moving, and that was it,” Wood says. “After that, I was off the clock. I didn’t have to go to sleep in the back behind somebody I didn’t know. The load didn’t tie me down anymore. I was truly off the clock. It was great.”
Laura Butler Beckett, an OTR team driver for Western Flyer Express out of Oklahoma City, Okla., has been driving relay for four years. Beckett’s setup is different from a true relay setup in that she stays out for two or three weeks at a time. But the rest of the job is similar. She calls it “swapping.”
Beckett and her teammate run from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The timing works well for them. “I don’t have to sit in a loading dock loading and unloading, and I can keep my truck moving,” Beckett says. “I really do keep it moving, too. There’s not a lot of down time.”
On any given day, Beckett says, “I pick up a loaded trailer, run it 680 miles and swap it out to a solo driver to deliver,” she says. “I love it.”
The dispatchers at Western Flyer Express make her job run smoothly every day, Beckett adds. “The dispatchers are so good,” she says. “I’ve been with his company almost four years. They’ve acquired about 400 trucks in the time I’ve worked for them. They’ve got the timing down. You’ll get there within a half hour of each other usually—and usually that half hour works out with one of our 30-minute breaks.”
Cooper says the downside to driving relay depends most on one’s point of view. While relay drivers typically are home nightly, they may have to work Tuesday through Saturday shifts.
“It all depends on where you are on the board in terms of seniority,” he says. “Seniority plays a big role in what routes you get. That is specific to relay like UPS, FedEx Freight and Old Dominion. That’s unique to this type of less-than-truckload sector.”
Relay drivers often run nighttime shifts as well, so if you’re not a night person, relay may not be for you.
Real Women in Trucking’s Wood wants to see more creativity behind the formula in the future, but she still recalls her relay job fondly. “I didn’t have the stress of looking for truck parking,” she reasons. “Showers were available, and I had privacy. My whole demeanor was different. To go in somewhere and close the door makes a big difference.”
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