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Some large LTL carriers have announced rates increases this fall. Old Dominion, XPO Logistics, YRC Freight and UPS Freight have all declared 4.9 percent GRI rate increases on non-contract LTL freight that took effect in September. In survey after survey, shippers have claimed that cross reductions are their number one priority. How can these two conflicting strategies be resolved?

It is important for LTL shippers to realize that LTL carriers are serious about making these increases stick. Despite somewhat muted demand for LTL service, carriers are making a determined effort to secure these increases.

One of the major reasons for the focus and discipline is balanced capacity. Most of the large LTL carriers shrank their networks considerably in the aftermath of the 2008-09 recession. As a result, there’s not a lot, if any, excess LTL capacity. Yield management is the priority this year. With limited capacity, there is little value in triggering a price war. A race to the bottom does little to help carriers raise their margins. LTL carriers are looking at their margins per lane and per account and taking action on contracted and non-contracted freight to improve yields. What can shippers do to mitigate these GRI increases?

For companies that have significant volumes of freight, they can put their business out for bid, leverage their volumes and sign multi-year contracts with minimal rate increases in subsequent years. There are a number of Best Practices that can be employed to make your freight bid a productive process ( ). For shippers that routinely do this on an annual or bi-annual basis, there are other avenues to pursue.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_dreamstime_xl_24936632.jpgOnce you gather the necessary data outlined in the previous blog ( ), it is time to take action. Here is a set of steps to follow to save money on accessorial charges.

Set up a cross-functional team

As you will realize when you review your research notes, it will often take a number of parties (sales, production, and warehouse management) plus the customer in many cases and your carriers to address how to reduce accessorial charges. Once you assemble your cross-functional team, have a meeting to share and discuss your findings and create cost saving targets, action plans, persons accountable and timelines.

Create a report to track success on a monthly basis. Share the report with key stakeholders and follow up with any stakeholder who does not fulfill his/her responsibilities.

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the new pricing processes that LTL (and small parcel) carriers are employing to improve the profitability of their operations. I noted that freight carriers are emulating some of the activities that have been undertaken by the airlines such as dynamic pricing (i.e. adjusting rates based on time of day and day of the week) to increase yields on their freight activities.

Similar to the airlines, in recent years, LTL carriers have become more focused and aggressive in seeking payment for additional services (that have distinctive cost elements) that have been offered at no charge or at less than full cost recovery in the past. Many carriers have been focusing on inefficient shipper practices or administratively costly tasks that drive up their costs. They have been turning to their customers to compensate them.

In this blog, I will provide a set of questions that shippers should ask themselves and their customers to understand the current shipping processes that are precipitating accessorial charges and the costs that are being incurred. In the next blog, I will provide some general practices that shippers can employ to mitigate these costs.

Why do Accessorial Charges Exist?

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Here are few statistics to consider. On June 27, 2014 a barrel of crude oil cost $107.26 U.S. On the same date, a gallon of diesel fuel cost $3.91 in the U.S. or $1.35 per liter in Canada. The cross-border (Canada/U.S.) fuel surcharge was 20.1 percent on LTL, 47 percent on truckload.

Last week, the price per barrel dropped to $50 while the price of diesel fuel fell to $3.13 in the U.S and $1.18 per liter in Canada. The cross-border fuel surcharge fell to 13.4 percent on LTL and 31.6 percent on truckload. This week the cost per barrel is trending below $50. The cost per barrel has dropped by over fifty percent in the past six months. In the same period, fuel surcharges have declined by about a third. Here are few thoughts that shippers need to keep in mind.

1. Shippers will receive a freight cost saving windfall in 2015

An energy expert suggested this week in Forbes magazine that we may see the cost of a barrel of diesel fuel fall to as low as $20 this year. While no one knows what the bottom is or how long energy costs will remain at these levels, the end result will be an unexpected cost saving bonanza for shippers. Enjoy it as long as it lasts.

2. What comes down will go up

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This year, all signs point to rising freight rates. With driver shortages across North America, driver wages are on the rise. On an almost daily basis, there are reports of trucking companies offering signing bonuses and pay for performance (productivity) packages to attract more drivers (at a higher cost) to their firms. Capacity shortages, government regulations and increases in fleet costs are all driving upward pressure on costs. In addition, economic growth is increasing the demand for transportation services as freight carrier consolidation, particularly in Canada, reduces the range of carrier choices.  New pricing methodologies (e.g. Dimensional Pricing) will also serve to push up freight rates, particularly for low density LTL shipments.

Shippers have been using Freight RFPs or Freight Bids for years in an attempt to keep freight rates under control. The question is whether FRPs still work effectively in a climate of rising freight rates? As a company that has been conducting freight bids for over ten years, the answer is yes, but they take more thought, more planning and more work than is the past. Here are a few tips to ensure your company achieves the best value for its transportation dollars.

1. Leverage your volumes

Your company’s volume of freight, in the traffic lanes where your vendors and customers are located, is the deck of cards your company brings to the table. One of the keys to success is to leverage these volumes as effectively as possible. To do so, it is helpful to consolidate (for purposes of rate negotiations) the freight volumes you have across multiple plants, divisions, sister companies and/or even competitors, if possible. Larger freight volumes give you a bigger bargaining stick.

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