While not all the numbers are in and those that are probably don’t reflect the complete picture, there’s little doubt that the trucking industry, like most other industries, suffered through one of the worst economic downturns in U.S. history during the past two years.
But there is some light at the end of the tunnel, although employment is a lagging economic indicator.
“I’m confident things have reversed now for the truckload industry,” Bob Costello, vice president and chief economist for the American Trucking Associations said, adding there might still be some valleys for truckload. However, he said the overall trend is moving upward.
Costello was not ready to say the less-than-truckload industry had hit the bottom yet, though.
“We’re still at very low overall freight volumes, levels not seen since the 2000-2001 period,” Costello said.
The ATA’s seasonally adjusted truck tonnage index (2000=100) went from 99.2 in April 2009 to 103.6 in October.
The advance seasonally adjusted index for November was 106.4.
Costello said just as it did during the downtown early last decade, trucking has shed a lot of jobs over the past three years.
The problem in getting an overall snapshot of trucking employment is data collection.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data for the category of general freight trucking long distance includes only the for-hire trucking industry, including 30,228 TL carriers and 7,923 LTL carriers.
As of last November, there were 227,000 for-hire carriers on file with the Department of Transportation with an additional 282,000 private fleets and 81,000 “other” carriers.
The BLS data puts the number of those employed in the general freight long-distance industry at 666,700 as of November 2009.
The BLS puts the number employed in the total truck transportation industry at 1,246,600 at the end of 2009, including all types of trucking — local, specialized, household and office moving.
But again, that would include only the for-hire portion of the industry, and would not include those involved in private fleet transportation at companies such as Coca-Cola Enterprises (7,000 tractors, 9,500 straight trucks and vans and 10,000 trailers), Sysco Corp. (7,491 tractors, 1,353 straight trucks and vans and 9,505 trailers) and Walmart (6,751 tractors, 20 straight trucks and vans and 55,045 trailers).
But regardless of how you slice and dice the data, you get a picture of just how bad the latest economic downturn has been and its impact on trucking.
The BLS data show that total truck transportation employment was at 1,408,200 in March 2001.
The figure declined steadily until it reached 1,318,700 in April 2003 (a decline of 6.3 percent) before it began a slow ascent that peaked at 1,454,600 in January 2007.
Between January 2007 and December 2009, the number dropped 14 percent to 1,246,600.
The comparable percentages for the general freight trucking long distance were 7.6 percent and 14. percent.
The ATA’s American Trucking Trends 2009-2010 just published puts the total number employed in non-government trucking related jobs at 7,357,800 at the end of 2008, a drop of 81,300 from 2007, when the number of jobs actually rose by 55,600.
Data for 2009 is not yet available.
“This [trucking] industry has been hit hard,” Costello said. “The magnitude has been astronomical. I believe it will be viewed as the worst recession in the post war period.”
Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.