The Evolution and Cyclical Nature of Expediting

March 2016

This post of The Transportation Scene will take a look at the history of Expediting.  We’ll look at ways the industry has evolved and how in some ways it repeats itself.  One thing is for certain – few things remain constant in this hurry up to wait, up and down segment of the trucking industry.


Expediting came as an alternative to companies storing large inventories of parts or product.  In the eighties and early 1990’s some manufacturers – particularly the automotive industries – discovered cost savings with Just in Time deliveries or JIT.  Parts would be delivered to manufacturing concerns as those parts were needed.  This often created the need for delivery of parts when even shipping by air was not quick enough.  Small trucks could deliver enough needed parts in emergencies to avoid the stoppage of the assembly lines.  Still much cheaper than maintaining parts inventories.

The Companies

Roberts Express was born before November 1980*.  Other known carriers early in the Expedite game included Tri-State Expediting and Express-1.   Around February of 2000 Roberts Express was purchased by Fed-Ex and became Fed Ex Custom Critical.  These expedite companies defined superior time-sensitive freight services.  Expediting began to establish itself as a specialty niche in the trucking industry.  The trucking industry was also “deregulated” in the very early eighties.  Since the deregulation numerous companies have come and gone from the expediting scene.

The Trucks

Prior to the current popularity of Expediting, owner-operators were using straight trucks without sleepers and could afford to sleep in hotel rooms when needed.   Cargo van drivers frequently made more money in a week than operators of semi-tractors in other segments of the trucking industry.   Soon straight trucks took note of semi tractors and borrowed the sleeper concept.   These trucks evolved into real freight transporting machines with the capability for the driver to sleep when needed.   Present day straight trucks can boast all the amenities of home.  Some modern day expedite straight trucks have larger and longer sleeper berths than cargo boxes.  Many current cargo vans have some amenities of home with the “Tiny House” feel.

The Drivers and Proliferation of the Industry

Drivers in the early days of modern expediting were most likely people that had some sort of connection to the trucking industry, or an industry that required ownership of a cargo van or straight truck.  These drivers began to share their stories of “doing well” using these smaller trucks in the Expedite Industry.  Some drivers, Lawrence McCord, Jeff Jensen (Bless you Jeff) and Joe Roman began these things called forums or websites on this new computer thing called the internet.  Soon drivers were able to further share their stories and ideas of Expediting between themselves and the public on the websites.  Carriers specializing in expedited freight began to support the websites through advertisements and banners.  Expediting continued to grow.  Then there was a truck show dedicated specifically to the Expedite industry – The Expedite Expo.  The Expo helped the industry reach a broader audience.  Soon more and more folks wanted a piece of this exciting, lucrative industry.   Potential drivers perhaps now began to include folks retired from an automotive plant that had dealt with the shipping department and the expediters they used.  Others might have been retired or coming from other professions including the military.  Young people viewed this established industry as a potential career.

 The Money

Like other industries a “Premium” price is paid for specialty service.  You never knew where the next load would originate or where it would take the driver.  Expediting was really the ambulance service of the trucking industry rushing freight when and where needed as quickly as possible.  Drivers could afford to sit and wait for that next load.  Good weeks were never measured in the number of “miles per week” but rather by the revenue produced.  Less miles, more revenue was a great thing.  Few trucks and few drivers – the laws of supply and demand dictated the rates.  The early days of expediting were amazing – the industry was able to keep drivers busy and happy with what seemed to be an abundance of freight.  If you owned a truck and could move the freight from point A to point B you could make money.  Success was not guaranteed but it was not difficult to attain a certain level of success.

 What has changed?

  • The number of “Expedite companies”. Deregulation has allowed anyone to open a trucking company regardless of experience or knowledge.  Truckload carriers have also entered the expedite arena by offering time-sensitive services.
  • Increase in Third Party Logistics providers. These are companies that “manage” freight movements for their large shipping customers.
  • An increase of semi-tractors operating within Expediting. Semi’s can haul any straight truck or cargo van load.  Operating a semi-tractor removes many size and weight limitations.
  • The number of “Expedite drivers”. As expediting grew so has the number of drivers and owner-operators working in our niche industry.
  • Number of cargo van owner-operators in 1990 vs. number cargo van operators in 2016.
  • Sprinter vans changed the cargo van sector of the industry by offering owner-operators a vehicle that has increased capacity by volume.
  • The biggest change presently occurring is enforcement of the regulations and new regulations or programs themselves.
  • Accident lawsuit awards to plaintiffs continue to rise.
  • Technologies – Increased fuel economy, Electronic Logging Devices, satellite communications, dispatch and compliance software to name a few.

What has not changed?

  • There will always be a need for expedite
  • Owner Operators and drivers still need to be a Businessman first and a Driver second. This is especially true in today’s competitive market.
  • People are reluctant to embrace change or even accept change.
  • Rates have not increased to keep with the cost of living for carriers or drivers.
  • The industry is cyclical. It has highs and lows which continue to repeat at different intervals.  This means when you are making money you need to put some away for those periods where you may not be making money.  Be a businessman first and a driver second.
  • They’ll be an Expedite Expo in July. Though keeping with change – it will be held at a new location!  Get all the details here
  • This industry is no bed of roses – you need to have some thickness to your skin.

Joe Roman said in 2000 this industry ain’t no bed of roses… – that is not changing.


Disclaimer: This blog is NOT intended to give legal advice, nor be a substitute for any training required by the Regulations.


Till the next blog, Thank  you Transportation Professionals for all you do!. Please be safe!

©John Mueller, CDS, CDT, COSS