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Storm cleanup, oilfield activity boost spot flatbed volumes

Spot flatbed freight activity rose last week as construction supplies and equipment moved into areas along the East Coast affected by Hurricane Dorian.

The spot truckload freight market was active during Labor Day week as Hurricane Dorian threatened the East Coast. But since the storm passed, so has the urgency that pushed spot van and refrigerated freight rates and volumes higher. 

DAT Solutions, which operates the transportation industry’s largest load board network, said van and reefer load-to-truck ratios edged lower during the week ending Sept. 15 but increased for flatbeds as cleanup and recovery efforts began.

National Average Spot Rates, September 2019 (through Sept. 15)

  • Van: $1.85 per mile, 4 cents higher than the August average
  • Flatbed: $2.19 per mile, 1 cent lower than August
  • Reefer: $2.18 per mile, 4 cents higher than August

Flatbed trends

As expected, spot flatbed freight activity rose last week as construction supplies and equipment moved into areas along the East Coast affected by Hurricane Dorian. The national average flatbed load-to-truck ratio was 14.4, up from 12.7 the previous week. Increased volume in the wake of Hurricane Dorian pushed several Southeast markets higher, led by Tampa ($1.72 per mile, up 7 cents) and Birmingham ($2.44 per mile, up 9 cents).

Less expected was the surge in flatbed freight volume from Houston, a major hub for materials and machinery headed to West Texas and the Permian Basin. The average outbound flatbed rate increased just a penny to $2.38 per mile last week, but freight volume from Houston jumped 67% and the lane from Houston toward El Paso more than doubled. And that’s before the attacks on the Saudi Aramco facility, which is expected to elevate oil prices.

Van trends

The van load-to-truck ratio averaged 2.4 last week and rates were higher on 35 of the Top 100 biggest van lanes by volume. Fifty-four lanes fell and 11 were unchanged compared to the previous week.

Rates were higher in Washington and Oregon thanks to rising imports and a strong fall tree-fruit harvest. The average outbound spot van rate from Seattle increased 3 cents to $1.54 per mile, with the lane to Eugene and Medford, Oregon, up 19 cents to $2.72/mile, one of last week’s biggest gainers. Portland to Stockton added 11 cents to $1.41/mile.

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