Spot truckload van and refrigerated freight rates finally recovered a little last week after a period of higher demand and declining fuel surcharges, while flatbeds continued to lose ground, according to DAT Solutions, which operates the DAT network of load boards.

The national average van rate rose 1.7% percent last week compared to the week before, hitting $1.78 per mile, despite a 1-cent decline in fuel surcharges.

During August, the average van rate was $1.75 per mile, 6 cents lower than in July, due partly to a 4-cents drop in the average fuel surcharge, and 25 cents below the rate for August 2014, also due to the fuel price decline that shaved 23 cents per mile off the average surcharge.

Van load availability was up for the second straight week, with load posts increasing 6%. Truck capacity declined 3%, which boosted the national load-to-truck ratio to 2.0 loads per truck. The load-to-truck ratio is a sensitive, real-time indicator of the balance between spot market demand and capacity, according to DAT. Changes in the ratio often signal impending changes in rates.

Refrigerated load volume jumped 4% compared to the previous week while available truck capacity was up just 0.3%. The reefer load-to-truck ratio increased from 4.9 to 5.1 and the average reefer line-haul rate rose 3 cents, but that was offset by a 2 cents decline in fuel surcharges for a national average of $2.04 per mile, resulting in just a 0.5% improvement.

Flatbed load availability slipped 1% but the number of truck posts declined 7%. The national flatbed load-to-truck ratio increased from 9.5 to 10.1 loads per truck but the average flatbed rate slipped 1% to $2.04 per mile.

This activity happened as the national average price of diesel rose 2 cents to $2.53 per gallon last week while the total number of spot market loads available increased 2.7% from the previous week as truck posts on the DAT network fell 2.8%.

While rates remain less than stellar, especially compared to this time a year ago, there is still money to be made in the spot freight market, said DAT Analyst Peggy Dorf in the DAT blog, a few days before these most recent numbers were released.

“While van rates are lackluster as a national average, a few lanes are trending up. There are van loads available for good money on the lane from Columbus to Philadelphia, and the lane from Philly to Buffalo is also paying well above $2.00 per mile.” she wrote. “Take advantage of rising rates by combining those lanes into a triangular route, or tri-haul, and replace the low-paying backhaul from Philly to Columbus [for example] with two higher-paying legs."