ARLINGTON, Va.—U.S. trucking industry activity, buoyed by strong demand for groceries and other "essential" supplies, was up in March versus both February 2020 and March 2019, but the monthly performance "was the storm before the calm" in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic impact.
Trucking industry activity in March, as measured by the American Trucking Associations in its seasonally adjusted "For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index" calculations, was up 1.2 percent over February and 4.3 percent over March 2019.
"March was the storm before the calm, especially for carriers hauling consumer staples, which experienced strong freight levels," ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. "But there was a huge divergence among freight types.
While freight to grocery stores and big box retailers was strong in March—especially late March due to surge buying by households—freight was anemic in other supply chains, like that for gasoline, restaurants, and auto factories, he said.
"Because of this, and the continued shuttering of many parts of the economy, I would expect April tonnage to be very soft," he added.
During 2020's first quarter, the ATA index rose 1.5 percent over the fourth quarter of 2019 and 2.4 percent from the first quarter a year ago.
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy, the ATA said, representing over 71 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods.
Trucks hauled 11.5 billion tons of freight in 2018, the ATA, and motor carriers generated $796.7 billion in revenue, or 80 percent of all revenue earned by all transport modes.