Inrix: Truck traffic remains substantial even as businesses shut down

Inrix traffic data

stay-at-home orders grew around the country, more Americans did just that.
Personal travel is down 46%. The decrease was far less for truck drivers,
however. They logged 13% fewer vehicle miles traveled (VMT) from April 11-17
compared to a baseline before the orders were issued, according to traffic data
firm Inrix.

The findings are part of a comprehensive study of VMT by both personal vehicles and commercial vehicles. The report, COVID-19’s Impact on Freight, also found that in 25 metro areas studied, vehicle speeds in each one increased during both morning and evening rush hours, ranging from a 6% increase in vehicle speeds for morning rush hour in Minneapolis-St. Paul, to a high of 60% faster during San Francisco’s evening rush.

Inrix noted that the Southern Gulf
region — defined as an area that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky,
Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas — saw the biggest
regional drop of 17%, with Kentucky and Texas experiencing 20% drops in vehicle
miles traveled.

The decrease in freight vehicle miles traveled by state. (Photo: Inrix)

“Despite these key oil and manufacturing
states contending with a volatile market and COVID-19 responses, the fact that
freight is moving at 83% of normal is remarkable and reveals the resiliency of
these economies in some of the hardest hit areas of the country,” the company

The study lasted five weeks, from
March 14 to April 17, with results broken down by week. For instance, in week
one (March 14-20), freight-related VMT was off just 1%. That increased to 6% by
week two and remained there in the third week. It wasn’t until the week of
April 4-10 that freight VMT started falling again, dropping 3% from the week
before and 10% below normal levels.

Zach Stickland, market analyst for FreightWaves, noted that SONAR data tracking volume predicted the VMT data Inrix found.  This was in part because SONAR’s Outbound Tender Volume Index (SONAR: OTVI.USA) tracks volumes based on electronic tenders, which are accepted before a load actually moves. In this case, as OTVI began dropping on March 22-23, the Inrix data lagged by about half a week.

FreightWaves’ SONAR Outbound Tender Volume Index showing weekly change in tender volumes compared to Inrix vehicle miles traveled data per week (displayed by short lines on graph). (SONAR: OTVI.USA)

Conversely, Strickland said that
during early March, short-haul freight volumes (under 450 miles) increased at a
faster pace than loads moving over 800 miles. That dynamic has begun to swing
again as replenishments of groceries and other goods begin to flow again.

FreightWaves’ SONAR Long Outbound Tender Volume Index shows increasing growth in short-haul freight, comparing city (green), short (orange), midhaul (purple) and long (blue mountain) volumes. (SONAR: LOTVI.USA)

According to Inrix, as of April 17,
the 12-state Western U.S. region saw a 6% decline in VMT, with all states
seeing a drop in long-haul trucking except Utah, which was flat. California,
among the first states to put a stay-at-home order in place, was down just 4%.
New Mexico was the largest decliner at 13%.

Each state in the Southern Gulf,
which saw a 17% drop overall, saw double-digit declines. As mentioned, Kentucky
and Texas dropped 20%, but Arkansas was down 18% and Tennessee was off 16%.

“The reduction in freight movement
may be partially due to hard goods manufacturing, as it represents a large
portion of the Gross Domestic Product in these states,” Inrix said. “It is also
important to recognize this area is also home to major freight corridors, like
I-70, I-80 and I-90, and shutdown impacts in other states will weigh heavily on
freight VMT throughout the [Southern Gulf] region.”

Total freight vehicle miles traveled week change versus the baseline week. (Photo: Inrix)

Michigan took a big hit in the
North Central region, down 37% in the latest week, although Inrix noted that
28% of that decrease took place in the second week of the survey as auto plants
shut down. Indiana and Ohio have also logged large decreases of 16% and 14%,
but they too have stabilized. Inrix noted that VMT in Nebraska, down 6%, has
started increasing again.

The South Atlantic region has fared
better than other areas, with only West Virginia hitting the national average
of 13%. All other states are ahead of the curve, led by Delaware and Maryland,
each down just 6%.

“Freight VMT in the South Atlantic
region has declined 10% since the COVID-19 related shutdowns,” Inrix said.
“Though the decrease is lower than the nation as a whole, freight travel in
West Virginia, Florida and South Carolina has fallen by double digits, with the
Carolinas both down about 9%.”

The Northeast has also fared
better, Inrix said, with overall freight VMT down just 9% for the region.
Between weeks four and five, the region saw freight VMT drop only 1%, likely
due to earlier shutdowns in the nine-state region.

New Jersey, at 13%, was the worst
performer, while Connecticut fared best with just a 3% drop overall.

Speeds on the nation’s highways
have increased, Inrix said, resulting in improved efficiency for the nation’s
trucking fleets.

Average change in vehicle speeds for morning and evening rush hours in 25 metropolitan areas. (Photo: Inrix)

“[As] passenger travel has dropped
46% nationwide freight movers have been able to shed some of the costs of
congestion, improving the movement of goods and services,” it said.

For instance, the Brooklyn Queens
Expressway (BQE) in New York has seen a 68% improvement in travel times during
evening rush hour, adding an estimated 6.5 hours per day for a trucking company
operating on that route.

A similar story is playing out on
the I-405 in Los Angeles through Sepulveda Pass. That route has seen a 73%
decrease in evening rush hour travel times. Travel time on Interstate 290 in
Chicago is down 62%; Interstate 90 is down 65%; and Interstate 285 in Atlanta
is improved by 52%.

“While the COVID-19 crisis
continues to sweep the country, and the world, one rare bright spot is the
vitality of the logistics network,” Inrix said. “Throughout the country,
long-haul trucks continue to make their trips at nearly the same amount
preceding the crisis, but don’t have to contend with the congestion around
urban areas that typically stifle productivity. Despite an unprecedented 46%
drop in personal VMT, freight movement has fallen a modest 13%, highlighting
how vital commercial freight is to the country’s efforts to recover from the