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Revenue, Profits Rise for Top 100 Carriers

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By Daniel P. Bearth, Senior Features Writer
This story appears in the July 16 print edition of Transport Topics.

Trucking has emerged from the economic recession leaner and more profitable, and many executives of the nation’s largest for-hire carriers are now making a more concerted effort to address the long-standing issue of driver turnover.

Companies also are deploying new strategies and technologies to control costs and improve service, based on interviews with executives and industry analysts for the 2012 edition of Transport Topics’ Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.

All but one sector of trucking showed double-digit revenue growth in 2011, and most carriers reported improved profits.

“We’re finding better ways to do things,” said Steve Chapman, chairman of Ruan Transportation Management Systems, based in Des Moines, Iowa.

Chapman, who took over the company during the depths of the recession in 2009, trimmed back some operations and refocused the business on the company’s bulk and dedicated trucking operations. “We improved our competitiveness,” Chapman said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by David Oren, president of Dart Transit Co., a truckload carrier based in Eagan, Minn.

“Freight pricing strengthened last year, and we have lowered our operating costs in significant ways,” Oren said.

John White, president of U.S. Xpress Inc., Chattanooga, Tenn., said his company came out of the recession “smarter, stronger, better.”

Instead of adding more tractors to its fleet, White said, U.S. Xpress is boosting freight-hauling capacity by partnering with other fleets and using rail intermodal service.

Nearly half of the carrier executives surveyed said they expect a shortage of freight-hauling capacity in the next year, in part because fleets won’t have enough qualified drivers. Another factor affecting truck supply is the higher cost of equipment, which makes it more difficult for firms to buy tractors and trailers.

To address the driver issue, carriers are doing much more to keep the drivers they have by raising pay, improving communications and providing additional training, executives said.

For instance, CRST International, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is spending $13 million to build a driver training and maintenance facility in California that will give drivers a safe and comfortable place to stay.

“We need to treat drivers much better,” said Cameron Holzer, president of CRST Expedited Inc., the longhaul business unit that employs about 4,500 drivers who work in teams.

Editor’s Note: The full TT 100 list is in the July 16 print edition of Transport Topics and will be posted online as a PDF in the near future.