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Industry costs increased more than 6% during freight recession, ATRI says

June 28, 2024
Rising operational expenses and low freight rates strained profitability across the freight industry in 2023, according to ATRI’s latest Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking

The American Transportation Research Institute released the findings of its 2024 Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking, detailing how fleets faced rising expenses and dropping freight rates in 2023.

The annual report analyzes line-item costs, operating efficiencies, and revenue benchmarks by fleet sector and size, providing benchmarking for motor carriers and a comprehensive overview of the financial state of trucking for decisionmakers in both industry and government.

The overall marginal costs of operating a truck hit $2.270 per mile in 2023. While the increase was only 0.8% over the previous year, when surcharge-protected fuel costs are excluded, marginal costs rose 6.6% to $1.716 per mile.

See also: New research shares strategies to foster women truck drivers' success

Overall, 2023 expenses rose moderately across most categories, with average costs across line items increasing at less than half the rate experienced during 2021 and 2022. Truck and trailer payments grew by 8.8% to $0.360 per mile, driver wages grew by 7.6% to $0.779 per mile, and repair and maintenance costs grew by 3.1% to $0.202 per mile. The exception to this trend was truck insurance premiums, which grew by 12.5% to $0.099 per mile after two years of negligible change.

The soft 2023 freight market posed many challenges for operational efficiency, as tracked in the report. Deadhead mileage, a critical financial drain, rose to an average of 16.3% for all non-tank operations, and driver turnover rose by five percentage points in the truckload sector.

These pressures combined with low freight rates strained profitability across the industry. Average operating margins were 6% or lower in all fleet sizes and sectors other than LTL. The truckload and specialized sectors experienced drops in per-mile or per-truck revenue, and most saw “other costs”—expenses outside of the core marginal line items—increase as a share of total revenue.

The report also includes analysis of cost trends in 2024 and beyond; for the first time, carrier-reported changes in Q1 2024 costs are included.

“The current economic environment makes cost management essential to successful operations,” said Gregg Troian, PGT Trucking president. “ATRI’s Operational Costs report provides the targeted costs and operational benchmarks necessary to identify opportunities for reducing expenses and how to best act on those opportunities in our fleet.”

The full report is available on ATRI’s website for free. Participating carriers receive a customized report directly comparing their operations to an anonymized peer group of the same sector and size.

About the Author

FleetOwner Staff

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Kevin Jones, Editorial Director, Commercial Vehicle Group

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