The cost of operating a truck averaged $1.69 per mile in 2017, an increase of 6 percent over 2016, according to the recent Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking report by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). In 2016, the average cost per mile was $1.59, with an average of $63.66 per hour. In 2017, the average hourly cost rose to $66.65—an increase of nearly $3 per hour. Since ATRI began measuring this data in 2009, costs have risen by $8.65 per hour.
The report breaks down cost per mile in five U.S. operating regions. The highest cost is found in the Northeast ($1.735 per mile) due to increased tolls and dense population centers. The West ($1.616) also has a high cost thanks to longer trips, higher fuel costs, and frequent traffic congestion. These two regions push up the national average, while the remaining regions see lower costs: Midwest ($1.591), Southeast ($1.553), and Southwest ($1.536).
There are several factors that influence operational costs. To maintain a consistent analysis year over year, ATRI divides costs into two categories: vehicle-based (fuel, permits, maintenance, tolls, etc.) and driver-based (wages and benefits). Thanks to a recovering economy, all factors saw an increase in 2017. The largest increases were fuel costs, truck leasing and purchasing, and driver wages. In fact, driver wages and benefits represented 43 percent of total costs. Since 2012, driver wages have increased more than 33 percent.
With the current driver shortage, many companies are increasing wages, benefits, and bonus programs to stay competitive in the hiring market. Starting bonuses were up over 43 percent in 2017, an indication of what it takes to attract new hires during a driver shortage. Retaining existing drivers is also key, and many companies have implemented or increased reward programs for things such as safety performance and on-time delivery. Nearly 63 percent of carriers surveyed for the report said they paid drivers an incentive beyond wages. These numbers will likely increase in 2018 as the driver shortage continues.
Carriers submitting data for the ATRI report accumulated over 9.4 billion miles in 2017 across a variety of industries and fleet sizes. All information was collected confidentially and is presented in aggregate form. The full ATRI report is available here.