Freight demand in third quarter 2012 did not show normal seasonal improvement from mid-August through September; in contrast, we experienced seasonal strengthening in demand during the same period in third quarter 2011. In third quarter 2012, our customers generally chose to keep their inventory levels leaner in a market with economic and political uncertainty. Freight trends for October 2012 to date have continued to trend below levels for the same period in 2011.
Average revenues per total mile, net of fuel surcharge, rose 1.9% in third quarter 2012 compared to third quarter 2011. Lower than anticipated freight volumes caused our loads to truck ratio in our truckload segment to be slightly below equilibrium for much of third quarter 2012. As a result, spot pricing rates trended lower, and the number of special freight projects with customers declined for both our truck fleets and VAS Brokerage unit in third quarter 2012 compared to third quarter 2011. Project freight is generally of a higher volume and shorter duration and therefore commands a premium price. While the recent freight trends have been disappointing, we believe truckload capacity constraints will continue due to an older industry truck fleet, the higher cost of new trucks and trailers, significant safety regulatory changes and a challenging driver market. We continue to work jointly with our customers to secure sustainable transportation solutions across all modes and to offset increased rates through enhanced optimization and transportation solutions whenever possible.
In third quarter 2012, we averaged 7,222 trucks in service and we ended the quarter with 7,110 trucks. This is a 215 truck decline from the end of second quarter 2012. This truck decline resulted primarily from our decision to exit certain less profitable customer business during third quarter 2012. Our primary objectives continue to be improving our operating margin percentage and our returns on assets, equity and invested capital, while staying true to our broad transportation services portfolio. Only through enhanced returns can we continue our commitment to reinvest in our fleet and our expanded portfolio of services.