Inside Logistics

Truckload rates ease in U.S. index

Truckload rates hit new highs and freight volumes remained elevated in July but retreated from June’s record levels


August 23, 2021
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Truckload rates hit new highs and freight volumes remained elevated in July but retreated from June’s record levels, as shippers paid a premium for transportation amid pandemic-related supply chain disruptions.

The DAT Truckload Volume Index was 222 in July, down eight percent compared to June. The Index is an aggregated measure of dry van, refrigerated (reefer) and flatbed loads moved by truckload carriers, and is an industry-standard indicator of commercial freight activity. A baseline of 100 reflects freight volume in January 2015.

“Shippers not only experienced escalating spot and contract rates in July, they were hampered by port congestion, unloading delays, shortages of trucks and drivers and more recently tighter intermodal capacity,” said Ken Adamo, chief of analytics at DAT.

“With holiday merchandise already arriving at ports, for many shippers there is more freight than the commercial transportation system has the capacity to handle efficiently. All modes are under stress.”

Spot van, reefer rates hit new highs

The U.S. average spot rate for van loads on the DAT One load board network was US$2.73 per mile, up five cents from June and 70 cents higher year over year (all rates include a fuel surcharge). The July average is 28 cents higher than November 2020, when holiday freight volume was peaking.

The national average spot reefer rate rose four cents to $3.14 per mile, a new all-time high. The reefer rate has increased from June to July only once—in 2020—since DAT established the Index in 2010. Since 2015, the average spot reefer rate has fallen an average of six cents from June to July.

The national average spot flatbed rate fell three cents to $3.12 per mile, in line with seasonal expectations.

Contract rates set records

Contract truckload rates again set records for all three equipment types, reflecting urgency among shippers to secure capacity and reduce volatility in their supply chains.

The average contract rate for dry vans was $2.79 per mile, up six cents compared to June while the average reefer rate increased two cents to $2.90 per mile. The contract flatbed rate jumped 17 cents to $3.29 per mile.

Spot load postings fell; truckload capacity tightened

With contract rates at all-time highs, the number of loads posted to the DAT One load board network fell 17.1% compared to June while the number of trucks declined 6.6%.

Van and reefer load-to-truck ratios increased month over month. The national average van ratio was 5.8, meaning there were 5.8 available loads for every available van on the DAT network, up from 5.6 in June. The reefer ratio was 12.6, up from 11.6, while the flatbed ratio fell from 66.8 in June to 44.3 last month.

August outlook

West Coast port markets are driving demand for truckload services. Ships continue to bunch up outside the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, where about one-third of all container imports arrive.

The average outbound spot van rate from Los Angeles was $3.70 per mile at the beginning of August, up roughly 2% during July. Los Angeles to Phoenix, a key warehouse and distribution market for retailers, averaged $4.61 a mile during the first week of August, $1.88 higher than the national average for spot dry van freight.

The ongoing chassis trailer shortage has been exacerbated by higher-than-normal dwell times for local container delivery and intermodal railcars to move containers from West Coast ports to inland destinations. Shippers are turning to the spot market for capacity: the number of dry van loads moved from Los Angeles to Chicago soared nearly 40% over a four-week period starting July 3.