- Soaring fuel prices pushed per-mile trucking costs to their highest levels on record last year, according to the American Transportation Research Institute’s 2022 Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking.
- For-hire fleets’ average total marginal costs per mile absorbed a 35.4% YoY increase in fuel costs, alongside a 10.8% increase in driver pay and an 18.2% jump in repair and maintenance costs, according to the annual report, which has been published since 2008.
- Inflation remains a major concern and rising costs “are beginning to have an adverse effect on the industry,” but strong carrier earnings, stable contract rates despite spot-market declines, and rising tonnage over most of H1 “suggest that the trucking industry remains strong,” the report said.
Trucking operational costs reached record high in 2021
What a difference a year makes. In 2020, carriers coasted on unusually low marginal costs as they weathered the economic uncertainty of the pandemic. Last year, they leaned on unusually high rates to pay sharply rising costs following global inflation exacerbated by Russia’s war on Ukraine and other factors.
No line item rose more steeply than fuel. The jump in fuel prices to an average of 41.7 cents per mile was the single largest driver of record costs for fleets in 2021, according to ATRI.
Driver wages, which increased across the industry, reached 62.7 cents per mile, while repair and maintenance costs rose to 17.5 cents per mile.
The increasing costs combined to create a difficult operating environment, particularly for small- to mid-sized fleets, and many carriers who joined the industry to take advantage of heightened freight rates have been forced out.
“After record numbers of new operating authority registrations in 2021, the opening months of 2022 had record-high numbers of operating authority revocations,” the ATRI report said.
Inflation is expected to continue to pressure carriers’ operating margins, which averaged 10% across most sectors in ATRI’s first year inquiring about them. The Producer Price Index, an indicator of wholesale inflation, rose 11.4% YoY in June, ATRI noted.
“Roughly half of this increase is attributable to rising fuel prices,” the report said.