Oregon lags behind national stats in trucking activity

While national truck activity picked up year-over-year in April, according to the latest American Trucking Associations figures, Oregon firms aren't necessarily hauling their share of the freight.

April truck tonnage jumped 2 percent from a year ago, marking the sixth consecutive increase, ATA said this week. The Arlington, Va.-based trade association also upgraded its March tonnage index to a 1.5 percent year-over-year increase, after previously reporting a 0.1 percent decline.

April's tonnage declined 1.1 percent from March, ATA said in its monthly, seasonally adjusted for-hire truck tonnage index, leaving the index at a reading of 114. ATA calculates tonnage each month based on reports from its member trucking companies.

Oregon Trucking Association President Bob Russell said, however, the outlook isn't nearly as bright as in other parts of the country.

OTA doesn't track tonnage. Instead it relies on weight/mile revenue reports from the state, which lag behind the ATA reports.

"Rather than up a little bit, I'm confident tonnage is down in Oregon," Russell said. "Anecdotally, Oregon is in worse shape than the nation. One of our largest industries that we serve is wood products. With housing and construction way off, it's showing up. Some of our log truck guys say they're down 50 percent and that trickles to flat-bed operators hauling lumber and the rest of that stuff."

Although the upward revision for March's tonnage was a hopeful sign, ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a monthly report the outlook for truck freight remains mixed.

"Truck tonnage hasn't grown since January of this year on a month-to-month basis, suggesting the overall economy remains very soft," he said. "The fact that tonnage is showing sustained year-over-year growth is positive, although part of the strength is due to easy comparisons from 2007."

Costello noted rapidly rising diesel prices pose a far a bigger problem for the industry than freight volumes.

That dilemma isn't lost on Mark Gibson, president of Siskiyou Transportation and general manager of Timberland helicopter in Ashland. "Right now we're trying to evaluate if a job we have down in California is even worth doing," he said. "The prices have gone up so fast lately I can't even keep track."

While the helicopter side of his business has contractual build-ins for escalating fuel prices, trucking firms generally rely on surcharges that may or may not stick.

"There's more competition on the trucking side," he said. "You can put on surcharges, but you can't always get them time and time again."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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