Carriers have a more optimistic outlook, with expectations for increased volume and rates in 2010, according to a fourth quarter Business Expectations Survey by Transport Capital Partners.

"A majority of carriers, for the second consecutive quarter, express optimism on volumes seven to 12 months forward," said Richard Mikes, a managing partner of TCP.

The bad news is that about 40 percent of fleets believe we won't see an upturn until 2011.

"When comparing the last 12 months to the next 12 months in volumes, this is the fourth consecutive quarter of improvement in outlooks, rising from 21 percent in February to 62 percent this quarter, a striking change," Mikes said.

Over the past quarter, rates stabilized, with 47 percent indicating that rates stayed the same, while only 30 percent said this in the prior quarterly survey.

"Rate decreases of 5 to 10 percent were reported by a total of 42 percent, but this was down from 59.7 percent in the prior quarter," said Lana Batts, a managing partner with TCP. "Most of the rate increases and stabilization was reported by carriers under $25 million in revenue, while larger carriers have continued to see greater rate erosion than their smaller brethren. This is perhaps reflective of the reports of large mega-bid packages to larger carriers taking their toll."

The survey found that 56 percent expect rates to stay the same over the next year, while about a third believe rates will rise.

"Only 8 percent expect future decreases, compared to 58 percent foreseeing decreases in February," Batts said.

"Segregating carriers by the $25 million revenue level leads to some dichotomy in expectations, but by a 9-to-1 margin both groups expect rates to increase or remain the same over further decreases," Mikes said.