Fleet operating costs increased to their highest levels since 2014, driven by rising fuel prices and pay and benefit increases for drivers, according to a new report from the American Transportation Research Institute.
The 2018 update to ATRI’s report, An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking, shows that the average marginal cost per mile for fleets rose 6% in 2017 to $1.69. Over the nine years of ATRI research, costs have only topped that mark in 2011 and 2015, at around $1.70. ATRI also tracked the average hourly cost for fleets, totaling $66.65 per hour, which is up nearly $3 from 2016.
Over the three previous years, operating costs were trending downwards due to decreased fuel prices, which bottomed out in 2016. However, there has been a rebound in fuel prices since then. In 2017, fuel costs made up about 36 cents of the cost of every mile. That's an increase of a little more than 3 cents, but still well below the high of 64.5 cents per mile recorded in 2013.
Driver wages and benefits make up the largest chunk of fleet’s operational costs, representing 72.9 cents or 43% of the total average marginal costs. Responding to an increasing need for qualified truck drivers, driver wages and benefits have increased 33.6% in the past five years. The report found that benefits in particular have been increasing as fleets realize that increasing pay is not enough to recruit and retain new drivers.
Around 63% of the fleets participating in ATRI’s study offer drivers some type of financial incentive or bonus beyond wages, many of these based on safe driving and on-time delivery performance. ATRI expects pay and benefits to continue to rise due to booming freight demand this year and severe truck capacity constraints.
Fuel prices and drivers pay were not the only costs that increased in this latest report. In fact, every category aside from truck insurance premiums showed a measurable increase from the previous year. Notable increases were also seen in equipment leasing and purchasing, permits and licenses, tires, and tolls.
Fleets that participated in ATRI’s survey span a range of sizes and types and collectively operate nearly 179,000 tractors, 4,773 straight trucks, and over 360,000 trailers. The majority of the fleets are smaller carriers with truck counts of 250 or fewer while the rest, 44.7%, split evenly between carriers operating between 251 and 1,000 power units and fleets running over 1,000 power units.
The ATRI report includes graphs and detailed analysis of all costs and is available online at TruckingResearch.org.