Last year may not have been a boom year for the U.S. economy in general, but in terms of truck tonnage, 2013 was anything but a bust.
Truck tonnage rose 6.2 percent year-over-year in 2013, the biggest annual jump in the index since 1998, according to the American Trucking Associations.
In December, the ATA For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose 0.6 percent from the previous month and 8.2 percent from the same month in 2012.
The steady increase in tonnage over 2013 reflects an economy already stronger than some might believe, said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello.
“I’m seeing more broad-based gains now,” Costello said. “The improvement is not limited to the tank truck and flatbed sectors like earlier in the year.”
The fourth quarter was the strongest end to a year in a couple of years, he said, with for-hire truck tonnage increasing 2.2 percent from the third quarter.
“With manufacturing and consumer spending picking up, coupled with solid volumes from hydraulic fracturing, I look for tonnage to be good in 2014 as well,” said Costello.
ATA’s index supports reports from individual carriers that saw freight demand rise steadily throughout the fall, rather than dropping off in December.
“We’re seeing fairly strong demand and good balance across the contiguous 48 states,” said John White, chief marketing officer at U.S. Xpress Enterprises.
December was one of the truckload carrier’s best months in 2013, with strong demand from contract customers and for U.S. Xpress’s brokerage services.
Business remained steady in January, White said, and not only in areas affected by the bitterly cold weather and snow brought south by the polar vortex.
“On the West Coast, you usually see a drop in demand in January coming out of the holiday, but even there our balances are much better than normal,” White said.
Trucking and logistics executives at the SMC3 JumpStart 2014 conference in Atlanta this week also reported favorable trends in truck freight volumes.