What is a freight lane?
A freight lane is any route that a carrier covers on a regular schedule. Freight lanes are also known as shipping lanes or trucking lanes. These lanes might connect multiple cities or transport hubs. They can be direct point-to-point, connect multiple points in any shape, or travel in any direction. Freight lanes might take a few days or a week to travel from beginning to end but can also take months or be as regular as daily.
Owner-operator freight lanes
Individual owner-operators often set up their own lanes, especially in smaller, local areas. These truckers often connect to a regional or national hub to take advantage of steady load flow into their area.
Regional freight lanes
Regional freight lanes are shipping routes that operate in one small region of the country, usually within a state. The best regional trucking lanes often connect to hubs that then connect to national routes.
National freight lanes
National freight lanes might be point-to-point. For example, Portland to Los Angeles. Or they might form a rough circle that takes them through multiple states.
Types of freight lanes
All shipping lanes are created to streamline and simplify cargo hauling. But the best freight lane for any given carrier depends on their lifestyle and circumstances. Some truckers are drawn to the open road and long-haul trucking. Others want to spend time at home with family. There are lanes for all types of truckers and all types of loads.
Full and partial load freight lanes
Full-load freight lanes serve loads that fill a trailer. Agricultural and energy goods are most commonly shipped by the truckload, but many commodities are hauled this way. Partial load shipments, where the cargo doesn’t fill the entire trailer, often share the same lanes as full-load freight. The key features of full and partial load lanes include:
- Constancy. Consistent weekly, daily, or monthly loads
- Low workload. Less loading/unloading
- Dependency. Losing a regular customer can mean losing the route.
Expedited freight lanes
Shippers send urgent or fast-tracked cargo through expedited freight lanes. These express routes are often point-to-point, with few or no stops along the way. Some pros and cons of expedited lanes are:
- High rates. These routes are often the best-paying freight lanes.
- High intensity. There is more time pressure attached to expedited cargo, and sometimes even penalties for late deliveries. This makes delays more stressful.
- Final mile. These jobs often involve city streets and other less ideal roads that use up time and fuel.
Long haul freight lanes
As the name suggests, long-haul freight lanes cover long distances and connect multiple cities or hubs. These loads often cross the country. Shippers and carriers using long-haul lanes can expect:
- Long hours on the road. Long-haul routes can mean weeks, or even months, out on the road.
- High total cost. Long-haul routes are more expensive. It takes more time to transport cargo over a longer distance and uses much more fuel.
- Low per-mile cost. On the flip side, the longer the haul, the cheaper the load is on a cost-per-mile basis.
Short-haul freight lanes
Most final-mile freight ships to retailers or consumers via short-haul shipping lanes. These lanes are highly competitive and usually cover less than 100 miles or so. Common features of these lanes include:
- Daily routes. Operators can be at home each night.
- City streets. This usually means more traffic delays, tight streets, and often smaller vehicles.
Most cargo will find its way through more than one of these lanes over the course of a route.
How are freight lanes established?
Demand, infrastructure, and terrain dictate where the best freight lanes are established. Carriers work out shipping lanes to maximize efficiency and minimize potential challenges, such as:
Areas with a lot of cargo and not enough trucks are obvious places for carriers to add a shipping lane. Truckstop.com shows the truck-to-load ratio for different jobs on its load board, which helps carriers find the best places to establish profitable routes.
Avoiding expensive toll booths saves both time and money. Even electronic-payment tolls sap time as traffic clogs up the booths.
Traffic and population density
More goods flow in and out of cities and towns with large populations. But higher cargo volume also increases traffic congestion and can make city streets trickier to navigate.
Geography and terrain
Mountains and valleys burn more fuel and can be more dangerous. This is especially true in the winter months. The best freight lanes optimize the route to include as much flat land as possible. A carrier might even go up a hill one way, as it’s a steadier incline and uses less fuel, and then return another way that is steeper to take better advantage of gravity.
Empty trucks (deadhead hauling) are money down the drain. Truckers work regular lanes to reduce deadhead miles and maximize per-mile revenue. Freight lanes can also allow carriers to make the best of “cheap freight.” Loads with lower freight rates make more sense if they’re included in part of a longer, more lucrative route.
Why are freight lanes good for carriers?
Whether you operate your truck in an established lane or create your own, freight lanes are a clear win for carriers. Hauling along regular shipping lanes is a more efficient, reliable way for owner-operators to earn a steady income. Here’s why carriers love working along shipping lanes:
Regular shipping lanes provide a sense of stability for both the carrier and your shippers. The more you establish a regular freight lane, the more consistent the freight becomes. That consistency is a bonus for freight brokers as well, and they are more likely to send cargo your way if you set a steady schedule with consistent rates.
Carriers get to know the people, businesses, and stops along the way when they cover the same freight lanes. This can build stronger relationships and lead to better cost control.
Because you get to know what your regular customers are shipping, you get a better sense of the regular rates and more control over revenue for your business. More predictable income means you’re better able to control cash flow and profitability.
Find higher paying loads.
Use Truckstop.com to manage and grow your regular shipping routes. Because Truckstop.com updates in real-time, you can see available cargo the moment they post online and respond quickly, giving you an edge for growing your business.