'Tis the Season of Declining Rates (Except in Buffalo)

Note: Mark Montague is on vacation.

An unseasonal surge of freight availability boosted spot market rates in November, but we’re back to normal now. At this time of year, “normal” is another word for “slow.” Christmas retail items arrived at their destinations, and gifts are hidden in garages and closets all over America — or, if you prefer, they are now being staged at an undisclosed location near the North Pole. Even the final round of reefers have already delivered fruit, vegetables, frozen pies and foil-wrapped chocolates. Are you planning a special meal next week? What’s on the menu?

Naturally, rates are also declining in most major lanes as we enter the seasonal lull. Van line haul rates are back at the same national average we saw in August, which is typically another slow month on the spot market. Thankfully, fuel prices are also trending down, with another five-cent drop last week. So at least it costs just that much less to keep the wheels rolling.

Shuffle Off to Buffalo

There are also a few bright spots out there, where freight is readily available and rates are well above break-even. For some reason, rates are trending up in Buffalo, NY. It’s a relatively small market for freight, but it looks like truckers can do pretty well there. I just checked DAT Truckload Rate Index, and this week’s average rate from Buffalo to Philadelphia is up to $2.39 including fuel, and the return trip pays $1.99. These are broker rates. The distance between the two cities is 385 miles, so you’ll average $835 per day or $1,670 round trip. That includes the fuel surcharge but not accessorials. Is that a good lane for you? Check LaneMakers in the DAT Load Boards to see who is running from Buffalo to Philly.

You should be aware that other outbound lanes from Buffalo don’t pay nearly as well. Buffalo to Chicago pays $1.16 per mile (ouch!) with $2.56 on the eastbound lane. That’s an average of $1.86 per mile — and it’s almost 550 miles one way, so it could take you more than two days to complete the round trip. Not so good, right?

It’s a Wonderful Life

Wherever your work or leisure travels take you, stay safe. More than 84 million Americans are expected to be on the road between Saturday, December 22 and Tuesday, January 1, according to AAA, and they’ll be driving at least 50 miles each. That’s a lot of cars, and traffic could be worse than usual. Leave yourself some extra time, and drive defensively. With all those holiday drivers, somebody is bound to do something really, really stupid.

Last piece of advice: enjoy time with your family, friends and/or (in my case) watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the 47th time and crying my eyes out while my family members retreat to another room and try to ignore the loud sniffling noises.