- Commercial truck traffic on America's busiest corridors remains very strong, according to the PrePass Safety Alliance, a nonprofit public-private partnership dedicated to advancing trucking safety and efficiency. The alliance's report indicates the COVID-19 crisis has not dropped truck volume, although it may have shifted the type of freight that carriers move.
- PrePass compared data from January through March, looking at carriers that travel past its highway centers. PrePass officials said 13.28 million trucks traveled through or past PrePass locations in March. This number is up from 12.74 million in February and almost matches the 13.29 million trucks recorded in January.
- The analysis follows a recent American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) report showing truck traffic was not just at normal levels, but that trucks were carrying freight faster, even through bottlenecks. ATRI reported on March 24 that "we are seeing is an unprecedented level of truck movement," as trucks did not have to navigate through excessive car traffic at the usually congested bottlenecks throughout the nation.
Prodded by health concerns and panic buying, consumers are stocking up on many products they feel they need during a quarantine. But the extra quantities bought have emptied shelves and warehouses, and caused many trucks to have to adjust to the new consumer habits. Carriers who usually move industrial products, such as big equipment and steel, are not seeing as much deman. So, they have modified their business model to provide service to other shippers, said Steve Vaughn, vice president of field operations at PrePass.
Truck volume will likely not drop as long as the COVID-19 relief efforts are underway, Vaughn said.
But while carrier traffic appears strong to PrePass, some analysts have wondered if carriers hit a crisis-related peak in late March. Peggy Dorf, DAT senior analyst, reported on Monday on her blog that demand for dry van equipment continued to slide last week, along with rates.
"We saw it coming, as load-to-truck ratios took a nosedive during the previous week, but it's still painful for anyone in transportation and logistics," Dorf wrote. "Carriers had enjoyed sky-high demand through late March, as consumers cleared store shelves of cleaning supplies, paper goods, and non-perishable food products."
Such demand continues, but it is offset by closures of manufacturing and distribution operations for goods that are deemed non-essential during the COVID-19 crisis, Dorf wrote.
Dorf wrote that rates only rose on a handful of high-volume lanes, "but not by much." For example, Chicago to Denver, Colorado, only added 1 cent to rise to $2.52 per mile. And Houston to New Orleans, Louisiana, gained a penny to rise to $2.32 per mile.
Dorf previously told Transport Dive her data for the week ending March 29 saw load-to-truck ratio shrink to 2.8, down from 3.5 for the week ending March 22.
Kyle Lintner, managing director of freight intelligence firm K-Ratio, told Transport Dive that retailers who saw demand go up during the COVID-19 crisis rose to the challenge of replenishing their stores and nearby warehouses, and won't need above-normal trucking business.