July 10, 2017 4:00 AM, EDT

Takeaway: Gearing Up for Growth

John Sommers II for Transport Topics

The nation’s top for-hire carriers are taking steps to shore up capacity in anticipation of increasing demand for freight hauling and a tighter market for drivers.

At the same time, trucking executives are preparing for possible disruption due to changes in trade policy, greater industry consolidation and a crackdown on violations of hours-of-service rules with the adoption of electronic logging devices later this year.

While not all carriers are seeing a pickup in demand yet, nearly every executive interviewed for the 2017 Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America said they are optimistic about the future and support the efforts of the Trump administration to stimulate growth by lowering taxes and reducing regulatory burdens for businesses.

TOP 100 FOR-HIRE RANKINGS: 2017 sector lists, company pages and more

“We could see more opportunity if some of the promised policies are put in place,” said Eric Fuller, CEO of U.S. Xpress Enterprises, a dry van truckload and dedicated carrier based in Chattanooga, Tenn. “The way we see it, the talk in Washington is promising, but not much has happened yet.”

One key regulatory issue on the horizon is how quickly and effectively the ELD requirement will be enforced, said Scott Shephard, CEO of Koch Cos. in Minneapolis. 

“The biggest issue facing the industry, in my opinion, has been the uneven playing field that existed between those carriers that were running legally and already using ELDs and those that weren’t and operated illegally,” he said. Shephard said he is boosting capacity in the company’s dedicated business but is holding off on expanding his company’s over-the-road truckload business until more is known about the effects of the ELD mandate on the industry.

Potential changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico are an industry issue on the mind of Chad England, CEO of C.R. England Inc., the nation’s largest temperature-controlled freight carrier. “Imports and exports account for a lot of freight,” he said, “so I’m hopeful that adjustments to trade deals don’t mess that up.” Mexican trucking companies are included in TT’s list of the largest for-hire carriers this year. 

The Top 100 list this year also features a close race at the top with second-place FedEx Corp. narrowing the gap with its chief business rival UPS Inc., which ranks No. 1. The pending merger of truckload carriers Knight Transportation and Swift Transportation also could presage further consolidation in the industry.