New Study Finds Carrier Size Matters (a lot) When Trying to Survive COVID-19 Downturn

Marietta, GA – Size matters, especially when it comes to how the COVID-19 pandemic and worsening freight recession is impacting motor carriers.

A new joint research study conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) and the Owner Operator Independent Driver’s Association (OOIDA) reveals a stark divergence in the impact on small carriers verses larger ones.

The report entitled “COVID-19 Impacts on the Trucking Industry” surveyed more than 5,000 respondents over the last few weeks.


Researchers say the purpose of the study was to more accurately measure how the COVID-19 pandemic has “likely impacted the U.S. economy like no other event since the Great Depression,” and its impact on trucking operations large and small.

Once the data was compiled, what is clear is how differently the impact has been felt based on the size of the carrier.

Freight Volumes

No area was the chasm between large and small carriers so vast than in freight volumes.

Researchers found 39 percent of respondents from fleets with fewer than five power units reported that their freight levels were “much lower.”

In contrast, 30 percent of respondents with fleets of over 1,000 power units reported that their freight levels were “about the same.”

“This disparity indicates that, in terms of freight volumes, smaller fleets are more negatively impacted than larger fleets,” researchers stated. “From a revenue standpoint, owner-operators and small fleets also rely more heavily on the spot market, which declined 38 percent from March to April 2020, according to DAT’s spot market load postings.”


Detention Time

Detention wait times is a pervasive problem inevitably experienced by every trucker.

According to a 2018 survey conducted by the OOIDA Foundation, a large majority of respondents indicated they spend between 11 and 20 hours per week in detention time.

While the largest respondent group (54 percent) indicated that their loading/unloading times were “about the same,” the study found a comparative trend line can be seen among those who indicated a pandemic-related change: 34 percent of respondents indicated that their loading/unloading times had increased, and only 12 percent indicated their loading/unloading times had decreased.

Interestingly though, researchers said owner-operators and small fleets experienced much worse detention delays relative to larger fleets.

Disaster Preparedness

Another area of glaring difference between small and large carriers is disaster preparedness.

For owner-operators and fleets with fewer than five power units, almost 80 percent of respondents did not have a disaster response plan in place before the COVID pandemic.


This finding is again in stark contrast to fleets with over 1,000 trucks, where 70 percent of respondents had a disaster response plan in place.

Researchers recommended one important role for both government and industry associations is to improve industry preparedness for owner-operators and small to medium fleets.


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Truck Parking

One of the only areas where small fleets enjoyed an advantage to larger fleets, according to this study, is in truck parking.

A plurality of respondents (42 percent) indicated that finding parking was “about the same” during the pandemic.

However, respondents with larger fleets, those with 251–500 power units, as well as fleets with between 501 and 1,000 power units, reported the most difficulty finding parking.

For fleets between 501 and 1,000 power units, the percentage of respondents who either indicated that it was “somewhat harder to find parking” or “much harder to find parking” was 52.1 percent, the greatest of any fleet size.


Finally, among owner-operators and small fleets, only 24 percent indicated it was much harder to find truck parking during the pandemic.

Researchers suggested this could be because owner-operators and small fleets have “more creative parking options” than larger fleets with private truck stop contracts.



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