Different types of LTL carriers and when to use each

Image of trucks lined up in a parking lot

When it comes to transporting goods, there can be many options to choose from depending on your load size and needs. Cargo containers carry large quantities of goods on boats and trains, flatbed trucks move oversized items across land, and airplanes can quickly move packages around the world. But for many shippers in the US looking for speed and dependability, truck transport is the preferred choice.

There are two types of truck transport: full truckload (FTL), in which a truck carries a single load all the way to its destination, and less-than-truckload (LTL), in which loads from multiple shippers bound for different destinations are packed onto the same truck. LTL is ideal for shippers transporting goods that do not require a full truckload.


Types of LTL Carriers

There are around 200 LTL carriers operating in the US. Most of these will fall into one of four types: local, regional, national, and consolidated. Each type is set up to serve specific business needs.


Local Carriers

Local LTL carriers typically transport goods within the commercial zone of a city or region and generally have a range between 80-100 miles. These tend to be the smallest carriers, but when combined they account for nearly 60% of the industry. Because their business operates in a limited geographical area, local LTL carriers often have strong relationships with their clients, and can offer benefits like personalized service and discounted pricing.  

Shippers use local LTL carriers when moving goods short distances, or to execute final-mile delivery.


Regional Carriers

Regional LTL carriers transport goods within a defined group of states, and have longer routes than their local counterparts. These carriers have a strong presence within their region, including a large fleet of trucks and multiple facilities. Regional LTL carriers also have strong client relationships, and are able to offer competitive pricing for a high level of service.

Shippers use regional LTL carriers to transport goods to multiple distribution centers or customers within a region, when they require greater flexibility with regards to pick up and delivery windows, and when they depend on next day delivery.


National Carriers

National LTL carriers use the hub-and-spoke model to transport goods all over the US and offer coast to coast coverage. These are the largest carrier types, with massive fleets and the greatest number of resources at their disposal. National LTL carriers  rely on the latest technology to manage their routes, trucks, and clients.

Shippers use national LTL carriers to transport goods efficiently over long distances. Instead of using a series of regional carriers to move goods across the US, shippers can rely on national carriers with several hubs and complex routes to get the job done.


Consolidators

Consolidators combine multiple LTL shipments that are headed in the same direction into a full truckload. Consolidated loads are sent to a single regional destination where they are broken down for final delivery. Because transporting full truckloads of goods is the most cost-effective way of shipping, consolidators can generally offer clients lower rates than some LTL alternatives.

Shippers use consolidators because these carriers provide value and dependability. As distribution models evolve, shippers who send smaller, more frequent loads can benefit from the speed and savings consolidated shipping offers. And because consolidated loads have fewer transfer points, there is less risk of damage.


Using 3PL To Optimize Shipping

With so many options for transporting goods, shippers are relying on third-party logistics (3PL) to help them make smart choices and operate more efficiently. 3PL refers to the outsourcing of a company’s logistics and operational processes to a third-party. A 3PL will usually utilize a transportation management system (TMS) to oversee the entire shipping process with the goal of reducing waste across the supply chain network. 3PL can be especially beneficial to LTL shippers who need to manage the transportation of goods over a network that includes partnerships with local, regional and national carriers.

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