Cargo (or freight) refers to goods or produce transported, generally for commercial gain, by ship, aircraft, train, van or truck. In modern times, containers are used in most intermodal long-haul cargo transport.
Air cargo is commonly known as freight. There are many firms which collect freight from a shipper and deliver it to the customer such as Nightfreight or UPS Aircrafts were first used for carrying mail as cargo in 1911, but eventually manufacturers started designing aircrafts for freight as well. There are many commercial aircrafts suitable for carrying cargo such as the Boeing 747 and the bigger An-124, which were purpose built to be easily converted to a cargo aircraft. Such very large aircrafts also employee quick loading containers known as ULDs much like containerized cargo ships.
There are many firms which transport all types of cargo, ranging from letters to houses to cargo containers. These firms like Parcelforce or Federal Express which deliver fast and sometimes same day deliverly services. A good example of road cargo is supermarket stock, as these require deliveries every day to keep the shelves stacked with goods for sale. Retailers of all kinds rely upon delivery trucks, be they full size semi trucks or smaller delivery vans.
Freight is a term used to classify the transportation of cargo and is typically a commercial process. Items are usually organized into various shipment categories before they are transported. This is dependent on several factors:
Shipments are typically categorized as household goods, express, parcel, and freight shipments.
Furniture, art, or similar items are usually classified as “household goods” (HHG).
Very small business or personal items like envelopes are considered “overnight express” or “express letter” shipments. These shipments are rarely over a few pounds, and almost always travel in the carrier’s own packaging. Service levels are variable, depending on the shipper’s choice. Express shipments almost always travel some distance by air. An envelope may go USA coast to USA coast overnight or it may take several days, depending on the service options and prices chosen.
Larger items like small boxes are considered “parcel” or “ground” shipments. These shipments are rarely over 100 pounds, with no single piece of the shipment weighing more than about 70 pounds. Parcel shipments are always boxed, sometimes in the shipper’s packaging and sometimes in carrier-provided packaging. Service levels are again variable; but most “ground” shipments will move about 500-700 miles per day, going coast to coast in about four days depending on origin. Parcel shipments rarely travel by air, and typically move via road and rail. Parcels represent the majority of business-to-consumer (B2C) shipments.
Beyond HHG, express, and parcel shipments, movements are termed “freight shipments.”
“Less than truckload” (LTL) cargo is the first category of freight shipment, and represents the majority of “freight” shipments and the majority of business-to-business (B2B) shipments. LTL shipments are also often referred to as "motor freight" and the carriers involved are referred to as "motor carriers". LTL shipments range from 100 pounds to about 15,000 pounds, and the majority of times they will be less than 100" wide or 28’ long. The average single piece of LTL freight is 1,200 pounds and the size of a standard pallet. Long freight and/or large freight are subject to "extreme length" and "cubic capacity" surcharges. Trailers used in LTL can range from 28' to 53'. The standard for city deliveries is usually 48'. In tight and residential environments the 28' trailer is used the most. The shipments are usually palletized, shrink-wrapped and packaged for a mixed-freight environment. Unlike express or parcel, LTL shippers must provide their own packaging, as LTL carriers do not provide any packaging supplies or assistance. However, crating or other substantial packaging may be required for LTL shipments in circumstances that require this criteria.
“Air cargo” or “air freight” shipments are very similar to LTL shipments in terms of size and packaging requirements. However, air freight shipments typically need to move at much faster speeds than 500 miles per day. Air shipments may be booked directly with the carriers or through brokers or online marketplace services. While shipments move faster than standard LTL, “air” shipments don’t always actually move by air.
In the United States of America, shipments larger than about 15,000 pounds are typically classified as “truckload” (TL), given that it is more efficient and economical for a large shipment to have exclusive use of one larger trailer rather than share space on a smaller LTL trailer. The total weight of a loaded truck (tractor and trailer, 5-axle rig) cannot exceed 80,000 pounds in the U.S. In ordinary circumstances, long-haul equipment will weigh about 35,000 pounds; leaving about 45,000 pounds of freight capacity. Similarly a load is limited to the space available in the trailer; normally 48 or 53 feet long and about 100 inches wide and 106 inches high. While express, parcel, and LTL shipments are always intermingled with other shipments on a single piece of equipment and are typically reloaded across multiple pieces of equipment during their transport, TL shipments usually travel as the only shipment on a trailer and TL shipments usually deliver on exactly the same trailer as they are picked up on.
Often, an LTL shipper may realize savings by utilizing a freight "broker," online marketplace, or other intermediary instead of contracting directly with a trucking company. Brokers can shop the marketplace and obtain lower rates than most smaller shippers can directly. In the Less-than-Truckload (LTL) marketplace, intermediaries typically receive 50% to 80% discounts from published rates, where a small shipper may only be offered a 5% to 30% discount by the carrier. Intermediaries are licensed by the DOT and have requirements to provide proof of insurance.
Truckload (TL) carriers usually charge a rate per mile. The rate varies depending on the distance, geographic location of the delivery, items being shipped, equipment type required, and service times required. TL shipments usually receive a variety of surcharges very similar to those described for LTL shipments above. In the TL market, there are thousands more small carriers than in the LTL market; so the use of transportation intermediaries or “brokers” is extremely common.
Another cost-saving method is facilitating pickups or deliveries at the carrier’s terminals. By doing this, shippers avoid any accessorial fees that might normally be charged for liftgate, residential pickup/delivery, inside pickup/delivery or notifications/appointments. Carriers or intermediaries can provide shippers with the address and phone number for the closest shipping terminal to the origin and/or destination.
Shipping experts optimize their service and costs by sampling rates from several carriers, brokers, and online marketplaces. When obtaining rates from different providers, shippers may find quite a wide range in the pricing offered. If a shipper uses a broker, freight forwarder, or other transportation intermediary, it is common for the shipper to receive a copy of the carrier's Federal Operating Authority. Freight brokers and intermediaries are also required by Federal Law to be licensed by the Federal Highway Administration. Experienced shippers avoid unlicensed brokers and forwarders; because if brokers are working outside the law by not having a Federal Operating License, the shipper has no protection in the event of a problem. Also shippers normally ask for a copy of the broker's insurance certificate and any specific insurance that applies to the shipment.
Cargo represents a concern to U.S. national security. It was reported from Washington, DC in 2003 that over 6 million cargo containers enter the United States ports each year. After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the security of this magnitude of cargo has become highlighted. The latest US Government response to this threat is the CSI: Container Security Initiative. CSI is a program intended to help increase security for containerized cargo shipped to the United States from around the world.