Spot reefer rates 'in abysmal territory,' but May showed positives

Updated Jun 24, 2024

Trucking news and briefs for June 20, 2024: 

Spot-market volumes hit all-time highs in May for vans, reefers, yet rates lag 

DAT Freight & Analytics' monthly demand/volume/rates report tracking spot market activity showed rates rose in May on higher volumes of van and reefer freight. The DAT Truckload Volume Index (TVI), an indicator of loads moved during a given month, hit all-time highs for both segments: 

  • Van hit 289 on the index, up 4% from April
  • Reefer: 224, also a 4% increase
  • Flatbed, however, dropped 2% to 301

Van spot volume and rates, 2015 through May 2024The chart shows volume quite high but rates (the line on the chart) still languishing at levels similar to last year for vans.

The van and reefer TVI numbers climbed 13% and 25% higher, respectively, compared to May 2023. The flatbed TVI fell month-over-month for the first time since December 2023.

“Stronger van and reefer volumes are consistent with May, when shippers move seasonal produce and retail goods and truckload capacity tightens due to the Roadcheck inspection event and Memorial Day holiday,” said Ken Adamo, DAT Chief of Analytics.

Capacity pressures continued to grow as a result, along with the ongoing flight of many owner-operators and small fleets from the anemic spot markets, whether by choice or involuntary business failure. Spot rates responded, DAT noted, with national average van and reefer linehaul rates back to within 2% of where they were in May 2023: 

  • Spot van: $2.01 per mile, up 2 cents
  • Spot reefer: $2.41/mile, up 9 cents
  • Spot flatbed: $2.52/mile, unchanged 

Contract markets remain much more attractive from a rates perspective, meanwhile, for small fleets lucky or diligent enough to have direct customer contracts. DAT's reported contract averages for May, compared to April: 

  • Contract van: $2.43 per mile, down 2 cents
  • Contract reefer: $2.79/mile, down 3 cents
  • Contract flatbed: $3.16/mile, up 1 cent

Since the end of May, spot reefer rates in particular have lost luster but gained some of it back in the most recent week -- that's according to the Monday weekly report from Truckstop and FTR Transportation Intelligence. 

Reefer spot markets have been exceedingly challenging in recent months, said one-truck independent Norman Camamile, operating from a home base of Zionsville, Indiana, with his Cherry Tree Park Transportation business, about three years into operating with authority. He got his start during some of the highest of highs for reefer spot freight. Since then, "of course, as you and everyone else knows, the bottom fell out," he said. 

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It's gotten so bad of late without direct customers that he's been weighing the cost of his "reefer trailer payment versus the losses" he might take on revenue by going power only, he said. Lately, "reefer still comes out on top, but just barely. ... Rates are really in abysmal territory."

[Related: Service, loyalty might mean little to a shipper today, but we can't give up on them entirely]

Challenges for women truckers: New report offers ways to clear path

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) this week released new research identifying approaches to increase the number of women truck drivers entering and staying in the industry. After quantifying six key challenge areas facing women truck drivers, the research lays out an action plan for fleets, schools and drivers themselves designed to make trucking careers more attractive to women. 

This research was identified by ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee in March of 2023 as a top priority to help further understand the challenges women drivers encounter.   

Among the challenges identified: trucking image and perception, training school completion, truck parking shortages and restroom access, and gender harassment and discrimination. Research conducted took input from thousands of truck drivers, motor carriers and truck driver training schools through surveys, interviews and a focus group to identify underlying factors that generate challenges, as well as strategies for navigating and overcoming these barriers to success for women drivers. 

The research “gives a voice to the thousands of women truck drivers who have found successful and satisfying careers in this industry," said Prime trucker Emily Plummer, "and encouragement to other women to consider truck driving jobs.”

[Related: 'Too many scammers out there': Staying choosy about brokers, with Trucker of the Month Candace Marley

 The research found women are drawn to driving careers for the income potential, highlighting that pay parity for women and men is more prevalent in trucking than in other fields. 

“This report provides an important roadmap for the industry to increase the number of women drivers,” said Joyce Brenny, Brenny Transportation president and CEO. “We have found tremendous success and improved safety with our women drivers and believe others who utilize this research will also experience success.”

A copy of the full report is available via this link to ATRI's website.

[Related: Owner-operator Leslie Bitterman claws back from near-death to success]