What is a truck dispatcher?

Many of the close to 40,000 truck dispatchers in the U.S. are making lucrative careers out of being organized, working independently and running their own businesses. But truck dispatching is not the same as truck brokering. Here’s why.

The main difference is that a truck broker generally is considered a bridge between carrier and shipper, whereas a truck dispatcher works mainly with the trucker to find and dispatch loads – often for independent owner-operators.

“A broker’s primary function is business development. They help truck drivers and transport companies find more loads to carry, while also helping shippers reduce their costs and negotiate the best possible rate,” according to Truckstop.com, an online load board and digital freight marketplace.

However, a truck dispatcher’s primary function is execution, the company notes, because dispatchers are the ones who organize schedules and routes and dispatch drivers to fulfill shipments.

“Sometimes these roles and responsibilities overlap, but they are fundamentally different. A freight broker is more like a hockey team’s general manager, while a freight dispatcher is more like a coach. Both play an important role, but a dispatcher has a more hands-on role on the front lines, while the broker is more back of house.”

The overlap of responsibilities, however, is part of the reason that truck dispatching has recently received attention from both regulators and lawmakers following allegations of illegal brokering from broker representatives.

Last year the Transportation Intermediaries Association filed a petition with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requesting that the agency issue a rulemaking aimed at raising standards for trucking dispatch services. TIA was also successful in getting into the recent bipartisan infrastructure bill a provision requiring FMCSA to issue regulatory guidance on how truck brokers and dispatchers should operate.

Dispatchers generally agree with the intention of TIA’s petition, which is to eliminate bad actors from the market. However, they disagree with the method by which TIA proposes to accomplish that – by allowing dispatchers to be an agent for just one motor carrier. “Anything further,” according to TIA’s request, “requires a brokerage license and compliance with the financial responsibility requirements applicable to brokers.”

But Brittany Hamstreet, a California-based truck dispatcher, said that a truck dispatcher is “a bona fide agent” for one or more motor carriers.

“Dispatch services provide logistical coordination between brokers and motor carriers; complete necessary clerical tasks on behalf of motor carriers; maintain motor carriers’ compliance with FMCSA regulations, taxes and fees; and assist motor carriers with attaining financial goals as determined by operating costs accrued by motor carriers,” Hamstreet told FreightWaves.

According to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, truck dispatchers make an hourly mean wage of $22.51 and an annual mean wage of $46,810. To be successful, truck dispatchers need a mix of skills, according to Truckstop.com, among them:

  • People skills. Drivers, shipping customers and cargo recipients have different goals and priorities. Dispatchers have to find a way to satisfy those competing needs and organize everyone to get the job done.
  • Computer skills. Dispatchers work with a range of programs, including GPS tracking software, Excel spreadsheets, load boards and customer relationship management tools.
  • Analytical skills. Dispatchers have to make independent decisions about the best routes and drivers for a particular job and be ready to problem-solve when issues come up. Dispatchers need to have a good sense of how all the pieces of the puzzle fit in order to quickly respond to changes or customer requests. Also, because they review hundreds of documents and reports for errors, they need a keen eye for detail.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.