The non-contract, or spot, market for flatbed transportation services has taken off in an unprecedented manner.
In the week ending March 10, there were about 88 loads for flatbed tender for every truck available to haul it, according to a load-to-truck ratio published weekly by DAT Solutions LLC, one of the two main spot market load board providers (the other being Truckstop.com). This follows an 80 to 1 ratio of loads to trucks reported the week before, DAT said. The numbers of the past two weeks are "off the charts," the consultancy said.
As of the most recent reporting week, the national average for flatbed spot rates reached $2.50 per mile, an 11 cent per mile jump from the prior week, DAT said. Spot flatbed rates have climbed 20 cents per mile in the past three weeks alone, DAT said.
Week-over-week, flatbed loads increased 11 percent in the most recent reporting period, according to the firm's data.
In February, the flatbed load to truck ratio averaged about 66 to 1. By contrast, the average in February 2017 was a bit more than 26 to 1, and in February 2016 a little more than 10 to 1.
Flatbed ratios are typically higher than those for dry van and refrigerated equipment, the two other main forms of trailers, because there are many different trailer types grouped in the flatbed category and they can't all be substituted for each other. In addition, flatbed demand starts to pick up this time of year due to cyclical construction activity, mainly in the South. In that vein, demand for flatbed services has yet to hit cold-weather locations that are still dealing with the effects of winter weather.
The current surge in flatbed demand is the combined result of a strengthening U.S. economy, a pick-up in import traffic that is driving sharp flatbed rate increases at U.S. ports, and above-average rate increases out of Houston, the country's largest flatbed market, the firm said. DAT made no mention of any continuing impacts of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the U.S., and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, on flatbed demand due to surges in construction projects.
Truck supply availability, based on weekly truck posts, ticked down 1 percent in the latest reporting week, DAT said.