ATA’s ‘Freight Forecast’ report looks ahead to increasing freight volumes

The key takeaway of this year’s edition is that the ATA pegs freight volumes to increase 4.2% this year and by another 35.6% by 2029, which, if you think about it, is not as far away as it seems.

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When people think about trucking, many things come to mind. These days some of the common themes include things like tight over-the-road capacity, regulations (while things are quiet now, they won’t be forever), and the ongoing driver shortage, among others.

Even though those things can, and do, pose frequent challenges for freight transportation industry stakeholders of all kinds, data issued today reminds them that this ubiquitous mode remains dominant when it comes to hauling a heavy load, pardon the pun, of our nation’s freight.

That was spelled out in the most recent edition of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) “Freight Forecast” report.

The key takeaway of this year’s edition is that the ATA pegs freight volumes to increase 4.2% this year and by another 35.6% by 2029, which, if you think about it, is not as far away as it seems.

But that is far from the only number included in this data-rich report. Other numbers, include:

  • total tonnage transported will reach nearly 16 billion tons in 2018 – a figure that should rise 35.6% to 21.7 billion tons in 2029;
  • truck volumes are expected to grow 2.3% per year from 2019-2024 and 2.2% annually for the next five years;
  • changes in demand for commodities – notably commodities moved by pipeline – will alter trucking’s share of freight volumes.  In 2018, trucks are projected to move 70.2% of total tonnage, that share is expected to sink to 65.9% in 2029. Nonetheless, the trucking industry will remain the single largest mover of freight; and
  • the transport of freight by rail, including intermodal, will account for 12.6% of tonnage this year – but that figure is expected to drop to 10% in 2029 – again, due to strength in pipeline, not falling rail volumes

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a statement that the “movement of goods is such a critical component of our economy, and the growth we’re projecting in freight demand is a reflection of its strength.”

And ATA President and CEO Chris Spear noted that these projected increases in freight volume necessitate the need to get involved in taking on the myriad issues trucking and the supply chain are up against, like workforce development and infrastructure investment.

“More freight means we’ll need more trucks and more drivers to continue safely delivering our nation’s goods,” said Spear in the same statement.

Spear is 100% correct in noting more trucks and more drivers are needed, especially the latter part, given that that truck driver shortage remains the elephant in the corner of most carrier boardrooms.

How to remedy that remains somewhat elusive, but progress is being made, however incrementally, through things like pay increases, tuition assistance for driver training, and carriers trying to accommodate worklife balance needs for drivers, too.

While the supply chain can appear to be heavily fragmented at times, given its multiple transportation modes, regulations, emerging technologies and trends (think digital brokerage and last mile), many links of the chain often begin and end with a truck. That is something that cannot be overlooked, and the data presented in this report make that very clear.

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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