Transport Topics: It Was a Truck


If you got it, most likely a truck brought it. Again. The latest Commodity Flow Survey from the federal government — a twice-a-decade undertaking — reiterates what most of us already know: that trucking moves America.

According to the new study, the U.S. economy generated $13.6 trillion worth of goods shipments during 2012, weighing a total of 11.7 billion tons.

And truckers moved more than 73.7% of those goods, as measured by dollar value, and more than 70% as measured by weight. That translates into 8.19 billion tons of freight moving in trucks over 2012, with a total value of $10.04 trillion.

Since the last study in 2007, the report shows, the value of freight shipments moved by truck has grown, while the total weight of those shipments has declined. The weight shrinkage is further evidence that technology generally leads to smaller, lighter products.

An interesting sidelight of the new study is the continual shrinking of distances that most truckloads are traveling, meaning trucking is increasingly becoming a regional business.

According to the Commodity Flow Survey, during 2012, 84.9% of all truck shipments were less than 500 miles and the average distance for-hire carriers moved loads was 489 miles.

On the other hand, the survey shows that the average truck-rail intermodal shipment during 2012 traveled 1,004 miles, a significant decline from the 1,413 miles in the 2002 survey. This indicates that intermodal is being used in shorter hauls than in the past, which in turn is helping reduce the average truck haul.

But truck-rail intermodal still is attracting only a fraction of freight. According to the survey, all of the intermodal freight shipped in 2012 weighed 224.3 million tons and was worth $230.5 million.

Meanwhile, a new survey from American Trucking Associations shows that driver turnover at for-hire truckload fleets dipped in the third quarter of the year, and it rose at less-than-truckload carriers.

While churn declined 2 percentage points at large TL fleets and 8 points at small ones, the quarter was the seventh consecutive in which turnover exceeded 90% at large carriers.

But there are indications that turnover rates are likely to remain high, and could well rise, as the economy strengthens during 2014.

Clearly, the industry must continue to strengthen its programs to attract new drivers and to make the profession attractive enough to retain more of our current workers.