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Ontario fleet optimism wanes heading into fourth quarter

TORONTO, Ont. -- Ontario carriers are less certain about their immediate future, according to the latest Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) quarterly survey.

TORONTO, Ont. — Ontario carriers are less certain about their immediate future, according to the latest Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) quarterly survey.

The number of carriers reporting they were unsure about the industry’s prospects jumped sharply from 26% last quarter to 40% in the Q4 survey. That marks the highest level of uncertainty since the second quarter of 2008, the OTA reports.

Still, 55% of responding carriers were optimistic about the industry’s prospects over the next three months, down from 64% in the Q3 survey. There have now been three consecutive quarterly declines in optimism among Ontario fleets, the survey has found.

But while fleets may be less optimistic, they aren’t panicking just yet. The number of carriers saying they were pessimistic about the industry’s prospects actually declined from 9% last quarter to 5% in the fourth quarter.

The OTA survey found freight volumes are steady, with 57% of carriers indicating intra-Ontario freight is about the same as last quarter and 36% reporting improved volumes. Forty-nine per cent said interprovincial freight has stayed the same with 39% reporting improvements from last quarter. Meanwhile, carriers reported some modest improvement in the southbound US market, with 21% reporting improved volumes compared to only 19% in the last quarterly survey. Most carriers (58%) said northbound volumes have remained about the same.

As rates go, most respondents said they were “about the same” while some fleets (21%) noted improvements in southbound US rates.

The latest OTA survey found, not surprisingly, that carriers are being faced with rising costs. Sixty-four per cent reported fuel costs increases of more than 10% over the past year; 86% reported an increase in maintenance costs; 80% complained of higher tire costs; labour costs rose for 88% of carriers; the majority of fleets noted rising employee benefits costs; and 52% of fleets said they’ve had to pay between 2-10% more for new tractors.

Most carriers reported no change to the percentage of loaded miles they are running and the average length of haul appears to have remained steady since the previous survey.

Half of responding carriers said they expect capacity will stay the same over the next six months, up from 22% in the Q3 survey. Twenty-nine per cent, meanwhile, expect capacity to decrease and 21% feel it will increase.

Where drivers and owner/operators are concerned, 49% of carriers say they’ll hire more company drivers while 44% have no plans to change their net number of drivers. Fifty-one per cent said they’ll add more O/Os while 47% plan no change.

Most fleets say they don’t plan to purchase new equipment, with 73% indicating they won’t be adding to their fleet of tractors and 56% saying they won’t add trailers over the next quarter. Thirty-eight per cent of responding fleets said they will be adding more trailers to their fleet over the next three months.

Carriers continue to report success in collecting fuel surcharges from shippers, with 91% characterizing their fuel surcharges as “reasonable,” up 6% from last quarter. An increasing number of carriers are applying accessorial charges (46% compared to 31% last quarter). Only 2% reported they are not applying accessorial charges, which is the lowest number since the survey was launched in 2008, the OTA notes.

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