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Preliminary Data Shows US Trucking Tonnage up Slightly for 2021-ATA
January 19, 2022

Despite severe driver shortages impacting the petrochemical and resin sectors, US trucking managed to haul more tonnage on the road in December 2021 and for 2021 overall, reflecting a "still growing goods economy," according to preliminary data released this week by the American Trucking Associations (ATA). The ATA's advanced seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index increased 1% in December after rising 0.5% in November. In December, the index equaled 114.7 (2015=100) compared with 113.5 in November.

Compared with December 2020, the SA index rose 1.4%, which was the fourth straight year-over-year gain.

For 2021, compared with the average in 2020, tonnage was up 0.3%. In 2020, tonnage was off 4% compared with 2019. Trucks hauled 10.23 billion tons of freight in 2020. Motor carriers collected $732.3 billion, or 80.4% of total revenue earned by all transport modes.

ATA calculates the tonnage index based on surveys from its membership.

"December's gain was the fifth straight totaling 4.4%," said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. "In December, tonnage reached the highest level since March, but it was still 2.7% below the pre-pandemic high. This is likely due to the fact ATA's data is dominated by contract freight."

Costello noted that contractor truckload carriers operated fewer trucks in 2021 compared with 2020 and it is difficult to haul significantly more tonnage with fewer trucks.

Trucking serves as a barometer of the US economy, representing 72.5% of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods, according to ATA. Earlier this month the American Chemistry Council said it anticipates industry transportation needs will increase significantly in 2022, thus heightening the urgency for untangling ongoing supply chain issues.

Chemical and resin shipments represent a large share of the overall total shipments for truck transportation, and the US has already implemented initiatives aimed at helping to ease supply chain constraints and move more cargos in 2021, which include recruitment programs to help get more truck drivers on the road.

By Brian Balboa for The Plastics Exchange.

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