ECONOMIC TRUCKING TRENDS: Truck tonnage dips, and Roadcheck rate bump underwhelms

This week we learned that for-hire truck tonnage in the U.S. suffered another decline in April, and that spot market rates got a smaller bump than usual for a Roadcheck week.

And ACT Research reports that freight growth is being gobbled up by private fleets and the railroads.

truck tonnage chart

Truck tonnage dipped in April

For-hire truck tonnage in the U.S. slipped 1.2% in April, on the heels of a 2.2% decline in March, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

“The truck freight market remained soft in April as seasonally adjusted volumes fell for the second straight month,” said ATA chief economist, Bob Costello. “With a rebound in freight remaining elusive, it is likely that additional capacity will leave the industry in the face of continued softness in the market.”

The index was down 1.5% year over year, marking the 14th straight YoY decline.

Private fleets and railroads handling freight growth

ACT Research has reported that slowing Class 8 tractor fleet growth will help move the freight cycle forward, but its impact on rates will depend on freight demand and fleet productivity.

“Goldilocks economic conditions of strong growth and disinflation are largely holding, and a rising tide should eventually lift all boats, but at the moment, the freight growth being generated by the economy is being handled by private fleets and railroads,” said Tim Denoyer, ACT Research’s vice-president and senior analyst.

“Private fleets have added more than the industry’s net capacity growth in the past year as the for-hire sector has contracted. The productivity of this new capacity is now being tested. Most private fleet operations are one-way, and though some are adept at filling backhauls in the for-hire market, most are not.”

He continued, “To the extend private fleets are successful filling backhauls, it is further delaying the for-hire rate recovery, and this is likely a factor in lingering spot market softness. Backhauls are not mission critical for private fleets, and as a result, the lower productivity of this equipment as seasonal volumes pick up should support higher spot volumes.”

spot rates

Roadcheck bump in spot rates underwhelms

Truckstop and FTR Transportation Intelligence noted the spot market was less stressed than usual during this year’s International Roadcheck inspection blitz.

Rates did increase, but modestly. Normally rates get a bigger boost as some truckers park their equipment rather than face greater enforcement scrutiny.

Truckstop reported dry van and reefer week over week increases were the smallest for a Roadcheck event since 2020. Aside from 2020, van rate increases were the weakest since 2017.

There was a sharp increase in load postings and a decrease in truck postings, however, which boosted the Market Demand Index to 86.2, its strongest reading since the beginning of 2023.

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James Menzies is editorial director of Today's Trucking and He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 24 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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