Despite an increase freight volume during February, a measure of the total strength of the truckload spot freight market declined from the month before due to softer rates, according to the freight matching service provider DAT Solutions.

The DAT North American Freight Index for February fell 13% as an influx of capacity from contract carriers held down spot van and refrigerated freight rates even though total freight volume for the month improved 48%.

"Volume on the spot market in February was robust for what is traditionally a slow month for freight," said Don Thornton, senior vice president, DAT Solutions. "The strong freight volumes attracted an unusual number of contract carriers, and the added capacity helped keep rates down on many high-traffic van and reefer lanes until late in February, when national average contract rates began to firm up."

Compared to January, the national average spot van rate was $1.62 per mile, including a fuel surcharge, down 5 cents, while the average reefer rate was $1.86 per mile, down 9 cents. However, by the last week of February, load-to-truck ratios were up sharply and spot rates had increased week over week. In contrast, the national average spot flatbed rate was $1.96 per mile, 4 cents higher than in January.

Although month-over-month spot van and reefer load posts declined in February, demand for flatbed trucks rose 27 percent. The flatbed load-to-truck ratio was 26.6, meaning there were 26.6 available flatbed loads for each truck on the DAT network.

"Flatbed freight includes building materials and heavy machinery," Thornton said. "High volume indicates activity in construction and energy sectors in particular, as drillers take advantage of crude prices that have been mostly over $50 a barrel since OPEC agreed to cut supplies in late November."

When the DAT measure for February is compared to the same time a year ago it is much higher, due to a spike in the total number of available loads, higher rates and lower truck capacity.