Welcome to the WHAT THE TRUCK?!? newsletter. In this issue, Canadian trucker protest rolls into week 2, spot rates, restroom shortage, autonomous train cars and more.
Peak season blinders
Upward pressure — Although dry van spot market rates inclusive of fuel have fallen from their all-time peak in January, at $3.70, they’re still sitting up in the rafters. According to Ryder’s “State of the Industry” report, “Tender volumes finished the year nearly 50% higher than 2019 totals.” FreightWaves’ Jack Glenn reports, “The average dry van spot rate was $3.44 per mile, up 51 cents year-over-year (y/y), representing an 18% increase.” With 13-month backlogs on new trucks, the capacity cavalry could be a long time coming. What’s your call: Will dry van rates average above $3.44 this year?
Shocking facts — Did you know that Wordle only had 90 players on Nov. 1, according to The New York Times? The NYT just bought the word puzzle, which now has millions of users, for an undisclosed seven-figure sum on Monday. Here’s one more for you: 250%. That’s the amount that China to U.S. West Coast spot rates went up in 2021. Importers may need to invent their own word puzzles just to cover freight spend this year!
Convoy carries on north of the border
On the scene — FreightWaves’ Nate Tabak traveled to Ottawa over the weekend to document Freedom Convoy 2022 in Canada. His take from the event was, “While a lot of folks say they are digging in for the long haul, the original beef of drivers about vaccine mandates at the border has been lost in a mishmash of other demands and some troubling incidents including a few people waving around Nazi flags.” Independent journalist Keean Bexte tweeted, “Convoy organizers say that they have enough funds to keep trucks on Parliament Hill for 2 to 4 years.” When asked how long the convoy plans to stay, a trucker at the rally replied, “Until it’s over, Justin resigns and all mandates are lifted.” The group has raised over CA$9.5 million on GoFundMe since Jan. 14. That’s almost $CA6 million more than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada raised last quarter. Meanwhile, there’s also reports of hockey.
“No, but our food prices are ballooning … one of the factors contributing to that is vaccine mandates.” — FleetOps CEO Chris Atkinson on whether trucking capacity has been impacted by the protest in Canada
Not so fast? — Ottawa City Councillor Mathieu Fleury tweeted on Monday that he “asked the city manager and society solicitor to immediately launch court proceedings targeting the millions in dollars in funds frozen by GoFundMe so Ottawa tax payers are not left holding the bag for these protests.” Western Standard reports that costs of policing the event are over CA$800,000 a day. Fleury has since set his Twitter account to private.
The struggle is real — “Go in the grass like all the guys do” is what veteran trucker Kellylynn McLaughlin was told by a dockworker on a trip to a receiver. Mandates are just another issue on a long list of driver grievances that are dominated by complaints about excessive wait times, a lack of parking and a lack of restrooms. For most drivers, the answer to the question of whether they can use the bathroom is often “No.”
“Two years ago, Schneider launched a program so drivers could provide detailed feedback on their customer relationships. According to McLaughlin, the restroom access issue has been raised enough that Schneider is looking at making it a point of dialogue with customers that have policies that don’t permit drivers to use the facilities.” — FreightWaves’ Mark Solomon
A new bill — Back in January, Rep. Mike Sells, a Democrat from the state of Washington, introduced legislation (HB 1706) requiring a “retail establishment” to allow drivers access to restrooms as long as they are doing business at the location. Given that truckers are usually visiting private businesses, there is only so much regulatory support that can be granted here on a national level. However, in a market with capacity this tight, it would be great to see more carriers follow Schneider’s lead and advocate for their drivers on the availability of restrooms.
SpaceX + rail?
So obvious — We’ve all heard about autonomous trucks a million times, but what about trains? They’re on rails and encounter far fewer variables in operation than a truck will. Electrek reports, “Matt Soule, a former long-time SpaceX engineer, has partnered with former colleagues at Elon Musk’s space company to launch a new startup, Parallel Systems.” Soule, inspired by a random YouTube video of a train, has just come out of stealth mode with a $50m series A funding round.
“You actually are not going to get into this game unless the railroads themselves are going to invite you in.” — Dean Wise, a former vice president of network strategy at BNSF Railway told FastCompany
Short line — While train lengths keep getting longer, Parallel Systems is looking to buck the trend. Instead of automating one long train, the company’s focus is automating individual train cars. Here’s a test video of the system in action. Will the idea stay on track? That depends on the rails as they are privately owned and funded. Parallel Systems isn’t looking to compete with UP, CSX and the other lines though. Instead, it wants to sell them its technology.
A FreightTech unicorn gets its horn
Loadsmart, very smart — FreightWaves’ Grace Sharkey reports, “On-demand freight marketplace Loadsmart announced Tuesday it has closed a $200 million series D round led by SoftBank Group’s Latin America Fund with participation from rail transportation company CSX Corp., asset manager Janus Henderson Group and its existing investor, BlackRock Inc.” What’s even more remarkable is that this $1.3 billion valuation is nearly three times as much as it raised in November 2020!
Steak shortage leads to 40-person fisticuffs
Not well done — Brock Lesnar may have won the WWE’s Royal Rumble last Saturday, but diners at a Golden Corral got a sneak preview last Friday night when a steak shortage led to a brouhaha at the buffet. The incident occured at the restaurant’s Bensalem, Pennsylvania, location after a shipment of steak failed to make delivery to diners’ final mouthful, according to a former employee. In a viral video from the multifamily brawl, one man is heard saying, “All I wanted was some steak.”
The 1st-ever WTT Freight Meme World Championship
Monday! Monday!! Monday!!! — It’s the first annual WHAT THE TRUCK?!? Freight Meme World Championship Feb. 7 LIVE on the show. Tune in to see the two best memelords in the game: FreightCaviar’s Paul-Bernard Jaroslawski take on Boris Panov in a memeoff to the death (OK, not really to the death.)
I am excited to announce that freight veteran and fantasy trophy expert TrophySmack’s Matt Walsh will be joining Michael Vincent and me to judge the winner and present the award.
If you’ve ever seen the WTT championship belt, you know just how awesome TrophySmack’s creations are. Don’t miss this one.
Now on demand
What does trucker protest mean for cross-border freight?
How NASA made space tacos
If you could take Secretary Pete out for a ride-along, what would you want him to know about trucking?
Take the wheel — We asked trucker Kellylynn McLaughlin what she’d tell him. Take a listen. What would you say to him about trucking?
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