Truckload capacity slackened slightly in the week ending April 11 but is still much tighter than it was a year ago, according to a key measure of capacity and demand.
The Longbow Research Weekly Trucking Barometer dropped 1.4 percent last week after shooting up 5.9 percent the prior week, the investment research firm said.
The truckload capacity index has increased 47.4 percent since the beginning of 2011 and is up 46 percent year-over-year, an indication that capacity is contracting.
"We continue to see relative tightness in the Southeast," Longbow said in a note to investors. The produce season has increased truck demand in that region.
"The West Coast and Mountain regions have experienced a moderation in freight demand over the past month resulting in a more abundant capacity environment."
The weekly index measures available freight against available truckload equipment, climbing higher as capacity contracts, the Wall Street investment firm said.
Longbow's Weekly Flatbed Barometer dropped 7.6 percent last week, but remains 18.6 percent higher than a year ago and 33.5 percent above last August.
Longbow and other research firms forecast increasingly tight truck capacity thanks to higher equipment costs, fuel costs, driver costs and financing costs.
ACT Research, a vehicle market research firm, predicts a 75,000-truck shortfall by the first quarter of 2012, and a 180,000-truck shortfall by the end of next year.
"We are starting to accumulate a shortage of freight-hauling capacity," said Steve Tam, vice president of the commercial vehicle sector at ACT Research.
That's pushing truckload spot market rates higher, according to TransCore. The trucking load board operator said dry van rates rose 4 percent in March.
Year-over-year, those dry van rates were up 15 percent, TransCore said. Loads posted on TransCore's boards were up 61 percent from March 2010.