Transportation Modes

What are the 6 Transportation Modes for Freight?

Understanding the different Transportation Modes can help set your business up for success. There is a best way to ship items through a mode that makes sense for your business. Optimizing these 6 modes can help you lower costs and provide efficiencies to your operations.

Courier / Parcel Service

In this mode, you will find the brown box packages and letters. Typically, items moving through this mode are small, and not heavy. There are specifications to how big the item can be to go through this network. Common services providers are UPS, Fed Ex, USPS, and DHL.

Less-than-Truckload (LTL)

Less-than-Truckload, which shippers commonly call LTL, is a popular transportation mode. LTL means that a shipment does not take up the full available capacity of a truck’s trailer. These shipments generally are up to 5 standard pallets, weigh no more than 20,000 pounds and take up less than 12 linear feet. All LTL carriers pricing and availability vary based on contracts.

LTL companies will make pick-ups at various shippers who all have shipments that do not take up the full capacity of a truck trailer. Pick-up and Delivery (P&D) drivers perform pickups at various shippers. Then, the driver will go back to the origin terminal with all the shipments collected. At the origin terminal, dock workers consolidate and re-pack shipments into trailers with freight going to similar zip codes. Once full, the trailer moves via a linehaul driver to the next destination. The process repeats until the shipment arrives at the destination terminal. Destination terminals will deliver the LTL shipments to individual consignees, via Pick-up and Deliver (P&D) drivers. 

Shippers find many benefits utilizing LTL, however there are some disadvantages. Often times shipments can arrive past expected delivery times due to network delays. Risk of damage rises in the LTL network due to the additional handling at various terminals.

Volume LTL / Partial Truckload

Volume LTL shares all the characteristics, language, and accessorial services as LTL. LTL carriers even perform the service of Volume LTL. Shippers utilize this mode for shipments consisting of more than 5 standard pallets (48” x 40”), weighs more than 5,000 lbs or occupies more than 12 feet of a trailer. Each carrier negotiates cubic-capacity limits on when standard LTL rates are invalid. The standard LTL rate does not apply after hitting the cubic-capacity limits. Shipping a shipment via standard LTL that exceeds these limits results in a cubic capacity penalty which may greatly increase freight charges. Generally, cargo liability often changes for volume LTL shipment. Standard liability for a volume LTL shipment is $1.25 per pound.

Partial Truckloads are quite like Volume LTL in that it’s in the middle of LTL and Truckload shipments, but the difference is that the service comes from Truckload carriers instead of LTL carriers. Drivers do not stop at terminals during transit, making partial truckloads a direct point shipping option. A carrier will pick up multiple shipments in an area and then head off to the destination. This practice is most common in flatbed shipping but carriers with Dry Vans participate as well. The disadvantage to this transportation mode is delays may occur on pickup or delivery. A problem not seen in booking a dedicated truckload. 


Unlike LTL freight, the shipper purchases exclusive use and utilizes the full trailer capacity for their freight. After the pickup, the driver drives directly to the destination for delivery. The freight will not be offloaded at a terminal. A trailer seal may be used on the door to ensure that the trailers are not opened during transit. This practice is common in pharmaceutical, food-grade, or high-value shipments.

Larger trucking companies with hundreds or thousands of trucks on the road will, occasionally, have drivers switch trailers with other drivers to keep the trailers moving towards the destination.

Equipment types for truckload vary based off the cargo requirements. The main types of equipment are dry vans, flatbeds, and refrigerated. Specialty trailers include step-decks, low boy, Conestoga trailers, and many more.


Expediting is a transportation mode for when standard modes are not fast enough to meet the required delivery date or time. Expedites are also another alternative to truckload shipments when no other capacity that must ship on a specified date. A shipper should consider this option as a last resort due to the expensive nature. 

This mode of transportation allows exclusive use vehicles of varying sizes that drive directly from the shipper’s dock to the consignee’s dock without making other stops or deliveries along the way. The vehicle can generally arrive at the shipper’s dock within hours after tendering the freight. Team drivers typically drive this type of vehicle to ensure delivery as soon as possible.

An air expedite is an alternative mode of transportation if ground transit can not fit time constraints. The air freight company generally contracts a truck to pickup at the shipper and deliver to the airport. Once the shipment flies to the destination city, the air freight company will schedule another truck to make the final delivery. In some cases, the product will make transfers at other airports, much like a passenger would.


International Transportation is shipping from one country to another. Dependent on the direction, shipments are either exports or imports. A US Shipper’s export leaves the US for another country. On the other hand, a US Shipper imports goods into the US from another country.

These shipments can be transported by ground, air, or ocean transportation. The shipments can move as Less-than-Truckload (LTL), Volume LTL, Truckload (TL), Air, and Ocean (FCL, LCL) and are priced the same as discussed above under the related transportation method.

Shipping internationally is not limited to overseas countries – they also include shipments moving between the United States and Canada, Mexico or Puerto Rico and other U.S. Territory islands. 

How does your company optimize transportation modes?

TLI helps our customers to ensure the proper transportation mode is being utilized on every shipment. Our mode optimization team makes it happen.