Freight Shipping Companies and How do they work ?

CitizenShipper CitizenShipper · Updated July 1, 2024

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At CitizenShipper, we act as intermediaries between people in need of freight shipping and the transporters that provide the actual service. We get the same questions daily — What companies ship freight? What is the best freight company? What do freight companies do when the client wants smaller items transported?

That’s why we wanted to provide this brief overview of freight transportation companies, outlining how they operate. We’ll also explain the difference between (F)TL and LTL freight shipping, the two modes of service covering over 50% of all freight spend in the US.

Full Truckload Freight Shipping

Also known as TL or FTL, full truckload shipping is a popular mode of transport. It involves massive shipments, occupying the full capacity of a trailer (48-ft. or 53-ft. long). Obviously, your Average Joe will rarely have any need for TL shipping. The customers that do require it are usually big businesses, most often in the energy industry.

Although more expensive, TL shipping does bring certain advantages to the table. For one, it’s usually faster. (The transporter doesn’t have to wait for different customers’ shipments to fill up the trailer.) It also tends to be more direct than the alternative. (TL shipments are rarely delivered to terminals.) 

So then, what are the companies that ship freight this way? Well, the American Trucking Association publishes yearly breakdowns for this category and many others. Let’s list just the top five here:

  1. Swift Transportation
  2. Schneider National
  3. J.B. Hunt Transport Services
  4. Landstar System
  5. Prime

In total, the top full truckload companies boast a yearly revenue of around $32 billion. But let’s contrast and compare that with the other freight transport mode. What companies ship freight by LTL?

Less-Than-Truckload Freight Shipping

LTL freight shipping, short for “less than truckload”, is another service mode popular with domestic and international freight companies. As the name implies, it involves smaller shipments, usually up to 15,000 lbs in weight. This does not mean that the trailers move half-empty, but that shipments from multiple clients are stacked together.

Since you’re essentially renting a portion of a trailer, LTL shipping can be seen as money-saving. However, the main benefit it provides is convenience! Many clients will never need full-truckload shipping, so this alternative is welcome. On the other hand, LTL shipments can be more time-consuming and are rarely delivered door-to-door. 

Here’s a list of top five LTL freight shipping companies. Just like the one above, this one is based on 2019 data provided by ATA.

  1. FedEx Freight
  2. Old Dominion Freight Line
  3. XPO Logistics
  4. YRC Freight
  5. Estes Express Lines

As for the totals, top less-than-truckload carriers boast a yearly revenue of around $38 billion. That’s close to 20% above their full-truckload equivalents, even though those tend to charge more. So it’s clear that there is more demand for smaller shipments than for those that would fill a fifty-foot trailer.

Where’s the little guy in all this?

The little guy is… well, he’s holding his ground pretty well. While the big freight transportation services control the market, they are also more susceptible to market disruption. 

When the economy contracts, the downturn is felt by the top earners first. But those operating on a lower scale, independent freight companies? They sometimes manage to retain or even expand their niche. 

Big businesses may have less freight to move in a crisis, but individuals still need their stuff transported. So they take to the internet, browsing online marketplaces for reliable drivers willing to get their shipments from point A to point B.

Hiring an independent transporter, of course, is a somewhat riskier proposition. Still, quality vetting and some common sense will get you a long way. This country was built by entrepreneurial types, after all — small business owners willing to stake their reputation on getting the job done right.

So if you have freight to move, go ahead and give it a go. List your shipment for free and see what quotes you receive from independent transporters. Check out their profiles, exchange messages back-and-forth — you should get a sense of whether this works for you or not. And feel free to message our support teams at any point, if in need of assistance.

Stay safe, and happy shipping!

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