FTR report makes the case for Twin 33-foot trailers in the LTL sector

If you ask anyone heavily involved in the less-than-truckload (LTL) sector, what their most pressing need or concern is, there is a good chance that you will be told that five more feet of trailer space, from 28 to 33, is at the top of the wish list for a whole host of reasons.

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If you ask anyone heavily involved in the less-than-truckload (LTL) sector, what their most pressing need or concern is, there is a good chance that you will be told that five more feet of trailer space, from 28 to 33, is at the top of the wish list for a whole host of reasons.

One primary reason being increased productivity, and another one would be less wear and tear on the nation’s battered and bruised highways. It is not just the increase from 28 to 33 foot trailers either. it is the need to Twins, or two of these trailers, riding behind a single truck.

With that as a backdrop, the myriad aspects of using Twin 33s were highlighted in a thorough report written by Noel Perry, Transportation Economist and Partner, at freight transportation consultancy FTR.

One of the initial points made by Perry was that Twin 33s are not a “generic option” for truckload carriers in that its usage by truckload carriers would be very limited, save for some small niches such as moving things like caskets or insulation. Instead, FTR’s analysis, as expected, noted that LTL and parcel carriers would be what it called the “prime users” of Twin 33s, adding that load conversion would be around 1-2%.

As for other drivers, Perry wrote that while the cube advantage of Twin 33s over 53-foot trailers is minor, an impetus for carriers looking to use Twin 33s is to “avoid the re-sorting required to consolidate many customers shipments as the freight moves across the hub and spoke terminal networks.”  

Other key findings, or benefits, of shifting to Twin 33s  cited by Perry included:

  • a definite cost savings – as much as 10%;
  • a significant reduction in trucks on the road (up to 18% fewer trucking rigs in the affected segment) would lead to lower emissions, less highway wear, and less congestion; and
  • the proposed change would affect only a small segment of the trucking market. It would largely affect current LTL and Parcel operators who support the change and are already running double trailer operations

Perry also highlighted other benefits resultant of Twin 33s, or fewer combinations, such as reductions in freight emissions, highway congestion, and pavement wear per ton of freight, too.

Earlier this year at the NASSTRAC conference I got to talk to CEOs of major LTL carriers and they also clearly stated the case for Twin 33s usage within the sector.

FedEx Freight President and CEO Mike Ducker said this: “Given all the benefits of Twin 33s it is just a commonsense policy solution. Now, whether or not, with all the other priorities on the table today, we can press that one through remains to be seen. But I will say that we are going to continue to recommend it as part of a solution to some of our infrastructure problems. There was an argument on the other side last time that Twin 33s are unsafe, that is a myth. We have run them millions of miles in the state of Florida and did not have a single recorded accident so we believe them to be safer. There have been false statistics quoted that they were 11 percent less safe, but in fact these twin trailers are 3 percent more safe, and so that is according to a number of different studies. We have a broad coalition of stakeholders recognizing and seeing the value it brings. If the argument is safety, it is a red herring, because these are far safer. If the argument is something other than that, or if it is something economic, the economics are that in many of the simulation studies, there is an 18 percent capacity increase, with less trucks on the road creating less fuel used and less CO2 emissions, fewer vehicle accidents. And with e-commerce going the way it is if we don’t do something to increase productivity then you are just going to have more and more trucks on the road because the supply chain is changing.”

All valid points to say the least.

And UPS Freight President Rich McArdle said this: “When it comes to Twin 33s, 12 months ago we probably would have hit the pause button in that we felt it was going to have to take some time. There was a lot of concern on Capitol Hill within the trucking industry in terms of whether or not it was unified with some opposing messages so we thought the right thing to do was hit the pause button. We realized following the election we had no reason to wait and through our role in Americans for Modern Transportation we are pursuing it again this year. At the end of the day, using Twin 33s has a cost benefit. What we are looking for is that we would like to run Twin 33s on the same national network that we run Twin 28s. They are not going to be running through neighborhoods or city pickups, it is for our linehaul and hub-to-hub type things. The key things we expect to see from it right off the bat are the opportunity for 18 percent more capacity, and the industry could see carbon emissions reduced by 4.4 billion pounds, a 1.3 billion mile reduction, or 200 million gallons saved.”

In a story on this site earlier this year, my colleague John Schulz wrote that FedEx has joined UPS and Amazon in Americans for Modern Transportation, a coalition of shippers and retailers that is urging Congress to support the nationwide access of the trailers.

“We need to lay the groundwork for a modern transportation system,” the AMT told the committee. “Central to this goal is combining infrastructure enhancements with efficient trucking and policies as well as incentives for better safety and fuel technology.”

But Schulz added that there are myriad challenges, with truckload carriers saying that addressing the thorny issue of truck sizes and weights is a touchy proposition in the early days of the Trump administration. Railroads, safety groups and others can be counted on to mount vigorous, and often emotional, opposition to any changes in truck configurations.

It appears as it there is a ways to go before the issue of Twin 33s becoming commonplace is a done deal. There are reasons for it that make sense and reasons against it that center on more modal-specific reasons, among others. Either way, it looks to be an interesting ride. 


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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