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Cost of Trucking Hits Record High

According to the 2023 update of American Transportation Research Institute’s analysis of the operational cost of trucking, trucking expenses reached a record high in 2022.

This is the second year in a row the cost of trucking has increased. There was a record number of motor carriers that contributed a wide variety of line-item costs, operating efficiencies, and revenue benchmarks by fleet size and sector.

Marginal costs ballooned 21.3% last year over 2021 to $2.251 per mile. This is the first time in ATRI operational cost history that the marginal cost has gone past $2 per mile.

Trucking cost per mile has increased 34% since 2021. And from 2020 to 2022, trucking costs have increased 61 cents. In total, costs per hour totaled $90.78 in 2022, the highest in reported history.

ATRI Associate Alex Leslie said while inflation was a key driving force for trucking costs last year, it was not the primary force.

“On an annual basis, consumer inflation was 6.5%, producer inflation was 6.4%, and core inflation about 6%. Setting fuel aside, which was a huge contributor to inflation but was itself closely tied to domestic and geopolitical issues, the cost of trucking rose at about twice that rate, by 12%,” he said. “In several cost centers – which rose at an even greater rate – other factors discussed in the report likely played a bigger role, such as parts availability and supply chain impediments, the atypical truck market/demand and the competitive labor environment.”

While fuel was a big force in total trucking operational costs last year, driver wages and truck insurance were big components.

Fuel is 53.7% higher than in 2021. Driver wages have increased by 15.5% (72 cents per mile). Truck insurance increased 2% year-over-year.

Truck and trailer payments increased by 18.6% to $0.331 per mile as carriers paid higher prices, primarily due to equipment impediments in the supply chains. 

Parts shortages and rising labor rates drove repair and maintenance costs up 12%, to $0.196 per mile. 

After two years of rising truck-tractor age, respondents to ATRI’s query reported an average truck age of 4.7 years old in 2022, down from 5.7 years old in 2021. 

In an attempt to keep operational costs low, carriers are looking to their drivers habits to see where improvements can be made.

Driver turnover, detention times and equipment utilization all improved in almost every fleet size and sector during 2022. The average speed calculated for 2022 was 40.33 MPH, approximately 0.09 MPH faster than in 2021. Average speeds continue to be higher than the average speed in pre-pandemic reports.

The trend in the number of annual miles driven per truck continued its fall last year, dropping from 79,808 in 2021 to 78,863 in 2022. 

Despite declining rates throughout the year, average operating margins were at least 6% in all sectors. While larger fleets’ average operating margins improved from 2021 to 2022, smaller fleets saw operating margins decline. 

Small fleets spent 7.7 cents more per mile than large fleets in 2022, a gap 2.8 cents wider than 2021, but still less than in 2020 when small fleets spent 16.3 cents more than large fleets per mile.

Truckload carriers saw the highest rate of increase last year at 23.6%. LTL carriers’ 17.6% increase in total marginal costs was the lowest rate of increase among sectors in 2022, while the specialized sector, which includes flatbed, tanker, refrigerated, and intermodal carriers saw an increase of 21.4%.

All three of these totals are still well below the private fleets average of $2.50 per mile in the previous year.

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