Trucking is one of the most common ways to transport goods in the US. That makes it an indispensable part of the national and global supply chains.
Data gathered by Statista indicates total revenue in the US trucking industry was $732.3 billion as of 2020. That figure demonstrates how much trucking happens across the country every single day. It also helps to show the value of truckload shipping and freight delivery for businesses. Companies spend on these transporting services because they fulfill a crucial logistical need.
Should your business work with freight trucking companies? What options are available? And do you need specialized trucking services if you’re importing or exporting goods from a port or other intermodal facility? Keep reading to find information that will help you answer these questions.
What Are Trucking Freight Courier Services?
Understanding the options available to your business for freight transport can help you make more informed decisions. Trucking companies, freight brokers, and similar businesses offer various options to pick up and deliver goods.
There are a few ways to segment the larger trucking industry. These definitions are based on operational models, types of loads transported, and other factors.
First, we’ll quickly define a few key terms. Then, we can review different segments of the trucking market.
Key Freight Shipping Definitions
- Freight refers to goods like inventory, raw materials, components, and parts. Freight is carried in bulk by trucks, ships, trains, and planes — all large vehicles.
- Carriers are the companies or individuals (truck drivers who operate their own businesses) who transport truckloads of goods.
- Couriers tend to transport smaller packages in somewhat smaller vehicles. A courier service focuses on speedy and efficient delivery, often to the intended final recipient. However, you may hear the term “courier” used in trucking as well. In these cases, it usually refers to transportation in general and doesn’t have the context of smaller packages.
- Freight brokers match customers and carriers, often negotiating to land on an agreement that works for all parties. Freight brokers do not maintain their own trucking or physical logistics network. Instead, they partner with carriers looking for loads to transport.
Drayage is a specialized type of trucking. It focuses on short-distance hauls of shipping containers to and from ports and other intermodal facilities. Drayage can involve bringing a container to the next leg of its journey or delivering it directly to a warehouse or other final destination. Drayage providers may offer a variety of other services, too.
Major Segments of the Trucking Industry
The trucking industry can be broadly divided into two segments: for-hire and in-house. In-house trucking, where a company owns and operates its vehicles, generally only has value for that business and its partners.
The for-hire segment represents the trucking companies that your business will work with. You can divide that freight trucking group in two ways to better understand the full range of services offered.
LTL Carriers and FTL Carriers
Full truckload (often abbreviated as FL or FTL) carriers transport shipments of 10,000 lbs. or more, the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics explains. These businesses generally pick up loads held in trailers from their customers and deliver them to a final destination.
There’s usually no need to organize the load after it’s picked up. That means FTL carriers don’t need to use terminals as they carry loads, which can help with time-sensitive delivery service.
Less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers, meanwhile, transport multiple shipments weighing less than 10,000 lbs. They take many smaller loads from several customers heading to the same general area and consolidate them into a trailer.
This requires terminals for drop-off and pickup of those loads, as well as last-mile delivery of a specific load to its intended recipient. LTL shipping is more accessible for businesses because they don’t need a full load before using the service makes sense. However, it can also take more time than FTL shipping due to the extra steps involved.
Specialized and General Freight Trucking
General freight trucking has a broad definition. If the load doesn’t require special treatment or handling, then it likely qualifies as general freight. If a load can fit into a standard trailer and doesn’t need to be temperature-controlled, monitored, or secured in a unique way, it’s likely a general freight. General freight trucking may be long-distance or local.
Specialized freight trucking involves loads that require extra attention. This category covers hazardous materials, liquids and gasses stored in special tankers, oversize loads, refrigerated products, and more. Specialized trucking can also be divided between local and long-distance operations.
Drayage trucking centers on short-haul trips to and from intermodal facilities. These are areas where shipping containers are loaded and unloaded from trucks, trains, ships, and planes. Drayage trucks transport shipping containers as opposed to standard trailers.
Drayage is generally limited to trips within a metropolitan area. A single trip could be as short as going from a port to a warehouse in the immediate vicinity. Drayage trucking is normally a form of no touch freight, which means drivers are not expected to unload or interact with the load they’re hauling.
Drayage is crucial for importers and exporters. This process provides a vital link between businesses and intermodal facilities, whether it’s for final delivery or moving a shipping container to the next stage of its journey.
When Does Using Trucking Freight Courier Services Make Sense?
Truck freight rates and prices between competitors will always fluctuate. You need to compare the cost of the shipment to the value it provides your business and how it can affect revenue and profit margins.
That said, there are some simple guidelines to consider for shipping to or from your facility. Understanding when to use these different services can help your organization make efficient choices around transporting goods.
Loads Under 150 Lbs.
If a load weighs less than 150 lbs., the best path forward may be to work with a courier instead of an LTL shipper. These businesses specialize in smaller shipments and can quickly and safely transport them.
Many couriers, such as UPS and FedEx, set weight limits for service at or around 150 lbs. That’s also the cutoff for LTL shipping. Most trucking companies won’t take a load of under 150 lbs. — or will set a minimum charge equivalent to that weight.
Couriers offer some advantages over trucking companies when it comes to these smaller loads. They offer a variety of pickup and delivery options, with expedited service often possible. Couriers can also offer door-to-door service and access areas that can’t be effectively serviced by tractor-trailers.
This is the one case where using a trucking freight courier service doesn’t make sense. Your company will find more efficiencies with small packages when working with a courier service.
Loads of 150-10,000 Lbs.
When a load is between 150 and 10,000 lbs., the best bet for transportation is generally an LTL carrier. That’s not a legal requirement or universal range, however. Some LTL trucking companies can take larger loads, up to 15,000 or even 20,000 lbs.
The maximum allowable weight of a loaded semi-truck is 80,000 lbs. on federal highways, as Freightwaves reminds us. That means they can carry about 45,000 lbs. of cargo.
Even if your load is at that 10,000 lbs. maximum, there’s still plenty of room on the truck for other cargo. That’s part of what makes LTL shipping lucrative for the trucking industry.
LTL shipping may not be as direct as using an FTL service, but the combination of loads in each truck means savings for businesses. By dividing the available capacity of the truck, companies can spend less while the shipper ensures a full load is in place.
Loads Over 10,000 Lbs.
With a load larger than most LTL shippers are willing to carry, the clear choice for transport is an FTL carrier. It’s a simple decision-making process, at least until you begin to shop around for rates and compare competitors.
FTL can be faster than LTL because there’s no need to use terminals and similar facilities. That can save time in transit, meaning your shipment is delivered on a shorter timeline.
If you have a shipment that qualifies as FTL but still leaves plenty of room in the trailer, look for opportunities to fill up the available space. Consolidating shipments can help you get the most value out of an FTL load.
If your company imports or exports goods in shipping containers, it needs a drayage trucking partner to work with your local intermodal facilities. Other trucking companies simply won’t provide this kind of service.
When it comes to businesses importing or exporting out of the Port of Oakland, Iraheta Bros is here and ready to help.
We have 150 years of combined experience in drayage and strong relationships with officials in California. With a full suite of services, including warehousing, and all of the equipment needed to safely handle, maintain, and store food-grade refrigerated and frozen containers and their contents, we’re uniquely equipped to support your business.
Work with Iraheta Bros – Request a Quote Today!