Transportation Terminology: The Definitive Reference Guide

There are many logistics terms to consider, such as last mile logistics and last mile delivery, but they end up sounding confusing because all freight has a last mile portion. It’s incredibly complex and subject to the unique view of each person and how they perceive the industry. Whether you are new to the transportation industry, are a seasoned veteran, or just want to better understand transportation and logistics terminology, this comprehensive reference guide is for you. The following is a list of widely used shipping terms that will help you with deciphering freight bills, articles, comments, and communications made by transportation professionals and the mainstream media about everything transportation.

Transportation Terms Glossary

Transportation Terminology Reference GuideAccessorial Charge: Amount billed for additional, supplemental or special services provided, usually a flat fee. Examples include Tarps, dunnage, layovers, detention, etc.

All-in Line Haul: FSC + Line Haul.

Backhaul (Head haul): The return movement of a transportation vehicle from its delivery point back to its point of origin.

Bill of Lading (BOL): A document between a shipper and carrier acknowledging the receipt of goods for transport and now available in electronic format (eBOL). Describes the nature of the cargo, amount of cargo by weight, size and/or number of pieces, and the origin and destination of the cargo.

Blockchain: A unique traceability service-ledger that builds immutable blocks of information and prevents all risk of tampering with data. Of the logistics terminology, blockchain is unique in that it can be a private consortia or publicly traded system.

Broker (freight): Individual or company that serves as a liaison between another individual/company that needs shipping services and an authorized motor carrier. Determines the needs of a shipper and connects that shipper with a carrier capable of transporting the items at an acceptable price.

Carrier: Utilizes trucks and/or trailers to move goods from point A to point B.

Coil Racks: Prefabricated cradles made of wood or steel made to hold rolled coils to keep them from rolling on a trailer.

Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA): An FMCSA trucking regulations program designed to provide motor carriers and drivers with attention from FMCSA and State Partners about their potential safety problems with the ultimate goal of achieving a greater reduction in large truck and bus crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

Commodity: Any article of commerce, including raw material, manufactured, or grown products.

Consignee: The person or location to whom the shipment is to be delivered whether by land, sea, or air.

Container (Shipping Container): Standard-sized rectangular box used to transport freight by ship, rail, or highway. International shipping containers are 20’ or 40’, conform to International Standards Organization (ISO) standards, and are designed to fit in ships’ holds. Domestic containers are up to 53’ long, of lighter construction, and are designed for rail and highway use only.

Distribution Center (DC): A location where goods and materials are stored until they are ready to be moved to their end destination.

Dead-Heading: Operating a truck without cargo.

Declared Value: The value of a shipment imported for resale, as declared by the shipper or owner.

Dedicated Fleet: A group of trucks that a shipper uses solely for moving all freight. Typically comes at a higher cost but with the promise of guaranteed capacity, better and more timely service, and locked-in rates despite disruption.

Dedicated Team: A team of drivers who take turns driving a dedicated truck.

Dedicated Truck: Refers to a driver pulling freight for one specific customer only, where only that load is on the truck. No partial loads can be added.

Department of Transportation (DOT): Oversees U.S. federal highway, air, railroad, maritime, and other transportation administration functions.

Detention/Demurrage: Charge by the carrier for excess retention of their equipment. Typically caused by untimely loading or unloading.

Door-to-Door: Synonymous with Thru Trailer Service (TTS) but can also mean simply handling the shipment from the shipper to the consignee.

D.O.T. Number: License administered to for-hire carriers by the Department of Transportation. (Not the same as Motor Carrier #).

Double Drop: A flatbed with the lowest deck. Normally used for oversized or over-height loads.

Dunnage: Filler material placed in empty spaces to keep cargo from moving or falling. Typically lumber, foam padding, or inflatable bags.

Duty Status: Drivers must maintain a daily 24-hour logbook (Record of Duty Status) documenting all work and rest periods. It must be kept current to the last change of duty status. Records of the previous 7 days must be retained by the driver and presented to law enforcement officials on demand.

Electronic Logging Device (ELD): Digital device that tracks applicable data for truckers, including drive time, mileage, speed and more. It is required by the ELD mandate in the US and will be required with the current implementation of the Canadian ELD mandate as well.

Escorts: Vehicles assisting in the movement of large, over-dimensional shipments. Escorts make sure the truck has plenty of space to move and alerts drivers of a shipment coming towards them. Help stop traffic with beacon lights and/or flags.

Excess Value: Amount of declared value of a shipment that is above the carrier’s limit of liability.

Expedited Shipping: The process of shipping at a faster rate than normal. Usually includes team drivers, overnight, and/or air services.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA): Operates within the D.O.T. with a mission to prevent commercial motor-vehicle related fatalities and injuries by enforcing safety regulations and improving safety information systems.

Freight Class: In LTL shipping, the category of freight as defined by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association. Identifies the size, value, and difficulty of transporting your freight. This determines the carrier’s shipping charges.

Freight Forwarder: Facilitates shipping of goods for a third party. Similar to a ‘Freight Broker’ but typically handles international goods, is defined as a carrier and can be held responsible for claims and loss of cargo.

Fuel Surcharge (FSC): The price of fuel can substantially change the cost of moving freight. Therefore, the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy publishes a U.S. National Average Fuel Index every week. Transportation companies will often include an FSC to the cost of moving freight either based on cents per mile or percentage of the line haul amount.

Full Truckload (FTL or FT in logistics terminology): Refers to the use of a full dry van, flatbed or reefer truck to move freight. Can be leveraged for smaller shipments, including LTL and parcel, provided they go through freight consolidationRead more about what FTL freight is and how it differs from other over the road modes.

Hazmat: Hazardous materials as classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Transport of hazardous material is strictly regulated by the US D.O.T.

Hot Shot: Smaller trailers that are pulled by larger pickup trucks. Typically 24-40’ in length and cannot handle as much weight as a regular tractor-trailer. Common for moving smaller loads or LTL shipments.

Hours of Service (HOS): Regulations that put limits for when and how long drivers may drive.

Interchange Agreement: Agreement and/or contract between two companies to switch or take control of a trailer in order to pick up and deliver shipments. Common along with border towns between Mexican and U.S. companies in order to cross the border.

Intermodal: A single trailer or container that encounters multiple forms of transportation along its routes, such as truck/ship or truck/rail.

Just in Time (JIT): Manufacturing system which depends on frequent, small deliveries of parts and supplies to keep on-site inventory to a minimum.

Lane: A move from point A to point B. Many companies will have a lane that they run on a regular basis called a “dedicated lane”.

Last or Final Mile: Describes the literal last movement of an item to its final destination, maybe a parcel with multiple final mile shipments onboard or can comprise a whole load/truck of goods, provided they are all being delivered to their final stop in the journey. Also includes a final mile to the retailer and final mile to the customer.

Layover: When a driver is detained overnight or for a 24-hour period while waiting to pick up or deliver a shipment. Fees are usually involved.

Line Haul: The rate per mile in dollars and cents for transporting items.

Logbooks: Books carried by truck drivers in which they record their hours of service and duty status for each 24-hour period. These are required in interstate commercial trucking by the U.S. D.O.T. and are also known as electronic logbooks (elogs) too as part of logistics terminology.

Less-Than-Truckload (LTL): Quantity of freight less than that required for the application of a full truckload (FTL) rate. Often a carrier will place several LTL shipments on the same truck to reduce the cost to the shipper.

Managed transportation: A type of service, also known as transportation as a service, in which a company, usually a 3PL takes over and handles all shipping and logistics needs from tendering through final delivery.

Motor Carrier Number (MC#): License administered to for-hire carriers by the Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA). Commonly referred to as USDOT numbers.

National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC): A standard comparison of commodities moving in interstate, intrastate and foreign commerce. There are 18 commodity classes based on an evaluation of four transportation characteristics: density, stowability, handling, and liability. These characteristics establish a commodity’s transportability.

Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC): Type of ocean servicer that provides all services, such as forwarding, without operating the vessels.

Owner-Operator: A truck driver who owns and operators their truck(s).

Over-Dimensional (Wide Load): Cargo that is larger than the legally defined limits for width, length, height, and/or weight and cannot be broken down into smaller units.

Pallet Jack: Also known as a pallet truck, pallet pump, pump truck, scooter, dog, or jigger is a tool used to lift and move pallets. Pallet jacks are the most basic form of a forklift and are intended to move pallets within a warehouse.

Parcel: Also known as small package, typically weighs less than 150 pounds and is the most prominent form of order fulfillment in e-commerce.

Partial: Truck used to compile multiple shipments from several customers in order to utilize the entire truck. Due to this, transit times can be longer than dedicated truckloads due to multiple stops.

Permits: Permission obtained from states allowing carriers to transport freight that exceeds the legal weight and size limits.

Placard: Warning signs placed on all four sides of a trailer denoting that they are carrying hazardous materials.

Proof of Delivery (POD): Signed documents (usually a Bill of Lading) that show a shipment was received at the delivery location. Can also be in electronic format (ePOD for reference in logistics terminology).

PRO number: A number assigned by the carrier to reference the shipment. This is also used for tracking.

Pup Trailer: Short semitrailer, usually between 26’ and 32’ long, with a single axle.

Rail: Transportation by train, usually subject to additional criteria for timelines, load density and adjunctivity to a local rail ramp.

Ramps: Carried by some open deck truckers to help facilitate the loading and offloading of shipments. Mostly found on step decks that are trying to haul cars and other drivable equipment.

Rate Confirmation: A document that confirms the agreed-upon amount for the cost of service between the shipper and carrier.

Reefer: A trailer with insulated walls and a self-powered refrigeration unit. Most commonly used for transporting food.

Removable Goose Neck (RGN):  A specialized type of heavy-haul flatbed trailer that can provide drive-on drive-off accessibility. The trailer deck is attached to a “gooseneck” which can be raised and lowered then removed from the trailer for transportation.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS):  Type of software used that offers a subscription-based payment model and vast flexibility and scalability to enable better management and a level playing field across organizations of all sizes. SaaS-based systems can be applied to virtually any system of record or digital resource.

Shipper: Consignor, exporter, or seller named in the bill of lading, who may or may not be the same as the party responsible for initiating a shipment.

Sliding Tandem: Mechanism that allows a tandem axle suspension to be moved back and forth at the rear of a semitrailer, for the purpose of adjusting the distribution of weight between the axles and fifth wheel.

Spread Axle (Spread Tandem): Tandem axle assembly that is spaced further apart than the standard spacing of 54”.

Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC): Unique 2-4 letter code used to identify transportation companies.

Straps: Strong vinyl straps used to secure and tie down freight to a trailer.

Tanker: Cylinder designed to haul liquids like fuel or oil.

Tandem Axle: Pair of axles and associated suspension usually located close together.

Team (Driver Team): Team of two drivers who alternate driving and resting. This practice is typically used for expedited shipments but will have a greater cost.

Third Party Logistics/Freight Broker: Individual or company that serves as a liaison between another individual or company that needs shipping services and an authorized motor carrier. Provides the necessary transportation but does not function as a shipper or carrier.

Thru Trailer Service (TTS): When cargo remains on the same trailer during an international shipment. This is the opposite of a trans-load and is generally considered safer by most companies.

Trans-Load: The movement of a product from one trailer to another trailer in order to keep a shipment going. This is standard practice at international U.S. borders where carriers can only operate in one country and must pass off the load to a carrier authorized to transport loads in the country of the load’s destination.

Truck-Mounted Crane: A self-propelled loading and unloading machine mounted on a truck body.

Truck Order Not Used (TORD): When a shipper orders a truck to pick up but cancels after a truck has been dispatched. There is typically a fee associated with this.

Transportation Management System (TMS): A system of record for tracking shipments, tendering loads and communicating with other parties in the transportation network.

Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC): Needed to gain unescorted access to secure areas of Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) regulated facilities and vessels.

Van: An enclosed boxlike motor vehicle having rear or side doors and side panels used for transporting goods.

Warehousing: The locations used to physically store and stage goods prior to order fulfillment. Can be temporary, pop-up warehouses to accommodate sudden changes during demand peaks.

Warehouse Management System (WMS): System of record for managing activities within the warehouse. Can be combined with the TMS to enable more transparency and integration, read “data sharing” to improve efficiency and throughput.

White Glove Logistics: Specialized form of order fulfillment, coming from the idea to wear a white glove to ensure damage-free delivery, and includes installation, debris removal, and extra care during delivery.

Simplifying Logistics Terms & Processes to Move Your Freight Forward

There is a theme throughout all the common shipping terms and abbreviations above. There are plenty of unique points and possible terms to add to this glossary. Each organization may even have different terms to describe certain parts of transportation, such as driver detention time versus ocean port demurrage charges. It’s incredibly complex and subject to the nuances of global transportation management and communications.

That’s why more organizations are turning to the experts like GlobalTranz to leverage full logistics solutions and managed transportation services without the headache of knowing what each item means. And by combining people with technology, it’s much easier to realize profitable shipping and timely execution of loads with such a partner.

Request a GlobalTranz consultation to get started today.