Spot van, reefer rates fall from February averages

Heavy Truck volume on I-81 south of Lexington At the James River Bridge near Buchanan
The national average van load-to-truck ratio climbed to 2.3 at the end of last week but with ample capacity to meet demand, rates failed to rise. (The Trucker file photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Spot truckload freight posting volume was virtually unchanged during the week ending March 31 while the number of truck posts increased 5 percent, keeping van and reefer rates in check during the final week of March and first quarter of 2019.

Last week’s relatively quiet freight market was in keeping with the rest of the month, said DAT Solutions, which operates the DAT network of load boards.

National average spot rates for March 2019:

  • Van: $1.86/mile, down 3 cents from the February average
  • Refrigerated: $2.18/mile, also down 3 cents from February
  • Flatbed: $2.35/mile, up 2 cents compared to February’s average

Van trends

The national average van load-to-truck ratio climbed to 2.3 at the end of last week but with ample capacity to meet demand, rates failed to rise. Typically the van ratio has to climb above 2.5 to 3.0 before there is sustained upward pressure on spot prices. Meanwhile, average rates on 56 of the top 100 van lanes were lower while only 38 rose. Six lanes were neutral.

Markets to watch: Freight volumes out of Denver plunged yet the average outbound rate rose because of sharp increases on two high-volume lanes:

  • Denver to Chicago increased 11 cents to $1.23/mile
  • Denver to Phoenix gained 10 cents to $1.32/mile

Reefer trends

The lack of spot reefer freight is hurting prices. On the top 72 reefer lanes last week, 42 lanes were down, 24 were up, and six were unchanged. The average reefer load-to-truck ratio in March was 2.9, down from 3.7 in February.

Markets to watch: Volume from the Lakeland, Fla., market gained more than 20 percent last week, and the average outbound rate ticked up 2 cents to $1.49/mile. The story was similar in Elizabeth, N.J., where higher freight volumes pushed the average outbound rate up 3 cents to $1.88/mile. The lane from Elizabeth to Boston jumped 15 cents to $3.88/mile.

Weather in the Midwest and Plains is taking a toll on agricultural production and transportation. The average outbound rate from Grand Rapids, Mich., fell 19 cents to $3.06/mile, and two lanes keyed last week’s slump:

  • Grand Rapids to Cleveland was down 31 cents to $3.83/mile
  • Grand Rapids to Atlanta dropped 22 cents to $2.51/mile

Flatbed trends

At $2.39/mile, the national average spot flatbed rate has risen for five consecutive weeks. In the top 78 flatbed lanes, rates moved higher on 36 lanes while 42 were lower, although flatbed rates have increased 4 percent overall in the past two weeks.

Markets to watch: Plenty of flatbed markets in the South and East experienced rising spot rates last week, and one lane in particular caught our attention: Houston to Oklahoma City jumped 38 cents to $2.55/mile. That’s a good sign for oil and gas activity.

DAT Trendlines are generated using DAT RateView, which provides real-time reports on spot market and contract rates, as well as historical rate and capacity trends. The RateView database is comprised of more than $60 billion in freight payments. DAT load boards average 1.2 million load posts searched per business day.

For the latest spot market load availability and rate information, visit and follow @LoadBoards on Twitter.


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