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Optimism returning to Ontario trucking industry

TORONTO, Ont. -- Seventy-five per cent of Ontario carriers who responded to the Ontario Trucking Association's Q1 Business e-Pulse Survey said they were 'optimistic' about the industry's prospects for the next three months.

TORONTO, Ont. — Seventy-five per cent of Ontario carriers who responded to the Ontario Trucking Association’s Q1 Business e-Pulse Survey said they were ‘optimistic’ about the industry’s prospects for the next three months.

That’s up 13% over the fourth quarter survey and is the highest percentage of fleets to express optimism since the survey began in the third quarter of 2008, the OTA has announced.

Just 4% of the 75 responding fleets said they were pessimistic about the industry’s prospects over the next quarter. Twenty-one per cent remained unsure.

On freight volumes, 61% of fleets said they’ve seen volumes increase compared to a year ago, which is 9% more than made that claim last survey.

However, fleets also reported freight volume improvements softened in the fourth quarter of 2010. Most fleets reported freight volumes are about the same as they were three months ago within Ontario, inter-provincially and cross-border. Intra-Ontario freight volumes have remained stable, with 58% of fleets reporting volumes are about the same and 33% saying intra-Ontario freight is improving.

Southbound US volume remains weak, with 23% of fleets indicating volumes have decreased compared to the previous quarter. Fleets also reported softening in northbound US freight. Still, 45% of respondents said volumes are improving but that’s down 9% from the previous quarter.

The number of fleets reporting that loaded miles are increasing rose to 39% in the quarter. Seventy-five per cent of fleets said the average length of haul has remained about the same.

There’s been no significant change in the rate environment, respondents said. Most said rates remained “about the same” last quarter, while 32% said southbound US rates were actually decreasing.  Thirty-nine pre cent of respondents noted some improvement in northbound rates.

The survey also showed capacity continues to tighten. More than 75% of respondents said capacity has either decreased or stayed the same over the past quarter and they predicted the capacity situation would remain pretty much identical over the next six months.

In terms of hiring, 53% of fleets said they are not planning to hire new company drivers and 58% said they will not be hiring any new owner/operators over the next quarter. But 47% said they will hire company drivers and 39% said they’d be adding O/Os.

Similarly, 45% of fleets said they’d be adding more tractors over the next three months while the percentage of fleets intending to buy new trailers rose 11% to 46%. Forty-nine per cent of respondents said they did not plan to change the overall size of their trailer pool.

Carriers seemed satisfied with the state of fuel surcharges (88%) and only 18% indicated shippers are taking longer to pay their bills, which was the lowest percentage in the survey’s history. In the third quarter of 2009, 59% of carriers were reporting that shippers were taking longer to pay their bills.

Fifteen per cent of respondents said shippers are now taking less time to pay while 67% reported no change. Twenty-four per cent of carriers said shippers were lengthening the terms of contracts, an indication that shippers may realize it’s a good time to lock in capacity.

The credit situation appears to be mostly unchanged, with 75% of fleets reporting access to credit is about the same as in recent months. Thirteen per cent said credit is tightening and the same percentage said it was easing.

The OTA survey was conducted between Jan. 10 and Jan. 31.

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