There is enough for owner-operators to worry about without having to keep a constant eye on what diesel prices are averaging. A number of carriers have programs in place to alleviate that concern through surcharge programs that pay a significant portion of contracted carriers’ fuel bills.

Mike Bethea, Schneider director of operations for owner-operators, said that the company has a fuel surcharge matrix in its Fuel Protection Program that lists the amount owner-operators will receive at every level of prices, up to $6 per gallon. All owner-operators contracted to Schneider are eligible, regardless of miles traveled or time spent driving for the company, Bethea added.

“There is a corresponding compensation that is in the contract that owner-operators sign,” Bethea told FleetOwner. “So if diesel is between $3.50 and $3.55 a gallon, for example, it pays X amount.” He added that the chart is not a secret—it is given to the owner-operator when they sign the contract, so there are no surprises.

One of the important facets of the plan, Bethea said, is that owner-operators have a financial benefit to be more fuel-efficient, as the program pays per mile--so the further a driver can go on a tank of diesel, the higher the payout.

According to Schneider, although the average diesel price last week was $4.502 per gallon, its owner-operators are paying an average of $1.085 per gallon, as they are receiving $0.5025 per mile for an average of 6.8 miles per gallon. Drivers averaging more than 6.8 mpg are paying even less. “We have some guys doing seven mpg, and their net cost is under a dollar,” Bethea added.

As the Department of Energy’s average fuel price goes up, the payout increases, Bethea said—if diesel hits $6 per gallon, owner-operators would pay an average of $1.05 per gallon.

“What I believe is unique about our program is that as fuel increases, the driver gets more of a benefit,” Bethea said. “As long as he doesn’t erode the miles per gallon, the benefits will continue.”

Schneider is certainly not the only carrier who has a fuel program for contracted owner-operators. Daily Express recently announced the Empty Mile Fuel Surcharge Assistance program, which compensates for empty miles at a variable rate from eight to 49 cents per mile, while paying 100% of the empty mile fuel surcharge to the owner-operator, the company said.

The surcharge program follows Daily Express’s Premium Loaded Mile Surcharge program, which pays owner-operators 1 cent per loaded mile for every 5 cent fuel cost above $1.10 per gallon. With the national average currently at $4.65, Daily Express is paying a surcharge of $0.71 per mile, the company said.

"We recognize the financial impact of empty miles on our owner-operator fleet, and we are taking the necessary measures to protect these drivers during these challenging economic times,” said Daily Express CEO Todd Long. “Keeping our owner-operator fleet profitable is essential to the service we provide to our customers all over the country."

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