February is the slow season for freight, and it may feel like your business is at a crawl right now. The good news is that spot market rates and volumes have held up better so far than they did around this time a year ago.
Still, finding loads and positioning your trucks is harder when there's more competition for freight, so we're going to take a look at some of your best bets for finding van, reefer, and flatbed loads during the slow season.
For the charts below, I looked at data from the past couple of weeks and pulled up the top 10 markets for load posts on DAT load boards for each trailer type. Then I highlighted the markets that have higher load-to-truck ratios than the national average. DAT customers can see the same information with the Hot Market Maps, included with DAT Power and RateView.
The load-to-truck ratio is a measure of how many load posts there are in a market compared to the number of truck posts. Obviously, not every carrier posts their trucks, and loads are sometimes reposted when a broker has trouble finding a carrier. It isn't an exact measurement, but we can still use it to compare markets and find out which ones have higher demand for your truck.
National load-to-truck ratio: 2.6 van loads per truck
Best Bet: Cleveland is number two right now for van load posts on DAT load boards, and there’s a lot less competition for loads coming out of there than in many parts of the country.
Highest Volume Lane: Cleveland to Atlanta*
What's It Pay? According to DAT RateView, rates on this lane have started to take a dive this week. It’s averaged $1.59/mile in the past 7 days. That doesn't mean that every load on this lane pays exactly that -- it's a guide, and you'll want to start your negotiations above that. This lane still pays better than it did in February 2016, but not by much and it's trending down.
*You might want to look for a load going from Cleveland to Louisville instead. That roundtrip has paid quite a bit better. Cleveland to Charlotte is another alternative that has paid better in the past couple weeks, with a good number of loads posted.
NOTE: You might’ve noticed that there’s no mention of any markets on the West Coast in the list above. Things are especially quiet out there right now. Los Angeles is the highest ranking western market for load posts, and it comes in at 33rd. The ratio there is just 1.4 loads per truck, so there’s a lot of competition for those loads, too.
National load-to-truck ratio: 5.2 reefer loads per truck
Best Bet: Reefer load posts are on an upswing in Miami. Most carriers don’t like going to Florida in the off-season, since it’s hard to find loads coming out. But there are reefer loads to be found in Miami right now, plus a shortage of trucks.
Highest Volume Lane: Miami to Jacksonville
What's It Pay? Southern Florida’s potato crop is harvested January through early March. In the past 7 days, reefer rates on the lane from Miami to Jacksonville have been the highest they’ve been in more than a year, fetching $2.37/mile on average (again, negotiate for more than that if you can). The return trip from Jacksonville to Miami has paid $2.23/mile on average during that same time frame.
You could also pick up a load in Jacksonville that's going to Atlanta, which pays better than Miami to Atlanta and gives you a better option for getting out of Florida.
National load-to-truck ratio: 22.9 flatbed loads per truck
NOTE: Flatbed truckers are less likely to post their trucks to the load board, for a variety of reasons. That coupled with re-posted loads can lead to some inflated flatbed ratios like in the chart above, but we can still use that number as a general guide as to which markets have a higher demand for trucks.
Best Bet: Jackson, MS
Highest Volume Lane: Jackson to Houston
What's It Pay? Flatbed rates on this lane have held up pretty well in February. It’s averaged $2.06/mile in the last week, same as it did in January. Even better, the return trip from Houston to Jackson has paid more in the past month.
As you can tell in that chart above, there's also a truck shortage right now in Rapid City, SD, so that's a good option if you're closer to that area. Denver has been the most common destination for flatbed loads there in the past couple of weeks.
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