Driver wages overtake fuel as carriers’ most costly expense in 2015

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Updated Sep 27, 2016
Driver wages in 2015 grew nearly 4 cents a mile on average. Coupled with the drop off in diesel prices, driver wage growth topped fuel spending as carriers’ most costly per-mile expense for the first time since ATRI began its annual survey in 2008.Driver wages in 2015 grew nearly 4 cents a mile on average. Coupled with the drop off in diesel prices, driver wage growth topped fuel spending as carriers’ most costly per-mile expense for the first time since ATRI began its annual survey in 2008.

Per-mile operational costs for motor carriers in 2015 dropped by more than a dime, according to data released Sept. 27 by the American Transportation Research Institute.

The average marginal costs per mile for the carriers surveyed by ATRI was $1.593 a mile, down 11 cents from 2014’s average of $1.703 a mile. ATRI bases its findings on surveys of motor carrier costs, conducted this year. The carriers surveyed account for more than 107,000 power units across applications and regions. ATRI compiles the data for its annual Operational Costs of Trucking report.

For the first time since ATRI began compiling the annual report, fuel was not carriers’ top expense. Drops in spending on fuel offset increases in other aspect of carriers’ operations in 2015, like driver wages and benefits, per the 2016-issued report. 

Here’s where costs shrunk in 2015

The decline in average carrier costs stems almost exclusively from cheaper per-mile fuel costs — 40.3 cents as mile in 2015, compared to 58.3 cents per mile in 2014.

The average price for a gallon of diesel fuel tumbled in 2015, starting the year at over $3.10 a gallon and ending up at just $2.24 a gallon.

For the first time since ATRI first published its annual report, fuel spending was not carriers’ most expensive per-mile line item. Driver wages took the crown in 2015. (More on that below.)

Other per-mile line items to see decreases in 2015 include repair and maintenance costs (down to 15.6 cents a mile from 15.8 cents); tire costs, down to 4.3 cents a mile from 2014’s 4.4 cents; and toll costs, which dropped to 2 cents a mile, down three-tenths of a cent from 2014’s average.

Per-mile averages for spending on permits and licensing was unchanged — 1.9 cents a mile.

Here’s where costs climbed in 2015

Driver wages put upward pressure on carriers’ per-mile costs, climbing to 49.9 cents a mile in 2015 from 46.2 cents a mile in 2014 and outpacing driver wages as the most costly per-mile expense incurred by carriers.

Driver benefits costs also rose, moving to 13.1 cents a mile, a 2-cent increase.

Spending on insurance premiums climbed to 9.2 cents a mile from 2014’s 7.1 cents a mile. Lastly, carrier spending rose on truck purchase and lease payments, up 1.5 cents to 23 cents a mile.

By sector and region

Costs for truckload carriers fell 8 cents from 2014 to $1.50 a mile in 2015 — the lowest of the per-mile costs calculated by ATRI. Specialized carriers’ costs dropped 6 cents to $1.79 a mile. LTL carriers saw a major dip, 13 cents, to $1.60 a mile.

Carriers operating in the West saw the lowest per-mile costs in 2015, $1.480 a mile, while carriers in the Northeast incurred the highest costs, $2.331 a mile. Carriers in the Midwest and Southwest saw similar average costs, $1.782 a mile and $1.773 a mile, respectively.

Carriers operating in the Southeast spent $1.670 a mile, the second lowest on a regional basis.