As it stands right now, the LTL (Less-than-Truckload) market is best described as “STRESSED”. This is probably an understatement. All carriers, regional and nation-wide, are saying the same thing. It’s a tough environment out there. Terminals are over-loaded, service levels have deteriorated, embargoes are in place in select markets and pricing is under extreme pressure.
The first question should be “how did we get here”? In one word = PANDEMIC. Carriers anticipated that volumes would dry up due to the pandemic lockdowns. They furloughed and retired staff and drivers only to be left without enough help when the volumes not only returned but increased from pre-pandemic levels.
Now as we fast-forward to today, we are seeing multiple carriers, especially the nationals, shutting down flows into and out of specific terminals to reduce terminal congestion from excess supply. These “embargoes” are causing further stresses to the system. As one carrier shuts off capacity, another gets overloaded, and on and on and on. It’s a domino type effect that is not dissipating quickly.
So, let’s turn to service levels. They are lower, in some cases much lower. Your freight is sitting in the pipeline longer and delaying delivery to your customer. You identify the problem, push for better delivery, but it back-fires on you by causing more delays. The driver shortage is making it very tough for carriers to get the job done.
Finally, the pricing is going up. If you have contracts in place good for you. If you don’t, we would suggest you either get them in place or deal with a 3PL who has solid contractual commitments that won’t rise with the tide.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Carriers are slowly recovering, and capacities are adjusting to volumes. As supply improves, demand subsides, and capacity levels out, the service, pricing and overall market conditions will improve. How fast? Not fast enough. I would anticipate the network balancing in late 2021 or early 2022. Until then, make sure you align with the right partners who can help steer you successfully through this current environment.