LONG BEACH, Calif. — Ongoing congestion problems at container terminals across the U.S. are creating a collective nightmare for ports, drayage companies and shippers, costing as much as $350 million a year, speakers said at the 14th annual TPM conference here.
With signs that the problems are systemic rather than temporary, there is plenty of finger-pointing about who should be responsible for remedying the situation in the long-term. Any solution will require real collaboration among all parties in the supply chain, they said.
Speakers on a TPM panel on the turmoil in the drayage industry said congestion is caused by a multitude of factors, including the arrival of larger and larger container ships at ports and the difficulty of forecasting when they will arrive and how long they will take to unload, the chassis shortage and the ongoing debate about who should be responsible for providing and maintaining them, continuing container backlogs following the compressed holiday season and the earlier Chinese New Year and longshore labor disputes on everything from port automation to health care plans. The severe winter weather this season has only added fuel to the fire, as some terminals have been forced to close temporarily numerous times and motor carriers have had to reroute shipments.
In short, the U.S. drayage business is currently seeing mile-long gate lines, equipment shortages and imbalances and delayed shipments across the country
|Laundry List of Problems|
|ο Long and Unpredictable Overall Turn Times
at Marine Terminals
ο Long and Unpredictable Marine Terminal
ο Marine Terminal Gate Processing Delays
ο Marine Terminal Procedural Exceptions,
ο Marine Terminal Chassis Logistics Delays
ο Marine Terminal Container Yard
ο Marine Terminal Disruptions
ο Extra Drayage Trips, "Dry Runs"
ο Extra Empty Equipment Moves
ο Congestion on Streets and Highways
“Trucker dissatisfaction with marine terminals is not a local phenomenon,” said Bruce Wargo, president of PierPass. “It is a symptom of the real problem, which is the traditional delivery process that most terminals have in place today.”
Dan Smith, principal of The Tioga Group, said that drayage delays have cost the U.S. $348 million, 14 million hours of work and 9 million gallons of fuels annually.
The need for improved communication
So what can be done to alleviate drayage problems? For starters, communications technologies need to be improved to keep bad transactions out of gate lines by screening early, Smith said.
“Terminals could be using smartphones to stage drivers and hold them if their row is closed, or to send different transactions to different gates,” he explained. While drivers are waiting to be called to the gate, they could move to a designated area and turn their engines off, which would decrease truck emissions.
Wargo also suggested using smartphones for real-time truck status updates, early export delivery and import pickup notifications and container yard closures.
Yard closures — which occur for reasons such as boycotts, safety situations, special meetings, holidays and work stoppages — disrupt operations and add costs to container handling, said Scott Larson, vice president of global logistics and customs compliance for the Bon-Ton Stores.
“The terminal closures need to improve by providing advance notice to truckers,” Larson stressed. Otherwise truckers end up stranded in terminals and gate queues. He also highlighted the need for terminal operators to provide end times for closures.
System improvements in general would also help lessen the impact of trouble tickets, Smith noted. Trouble tickets, which make up about 5 percent of all transactions, add about 60 minutes of delay each time they occur and even negatively impact clean transactions. However, about 80 percent of trouble tickets are preventable process errors, and terminal systems errors account for at least 25 percent of trouble ticket delays, he said.
Chassis shortages — weather, business changes, maintenance
Another major factor contributing to congestion problems at terminals involves the chassis shortage. As ocean carriers exit the chassis business, the resulting consolidation of chassis into pools means that there is less of a cushion for spikes in chassis demand, according to Jason Hilsenbeck, president of Drayage.com. The colder weather has only worsened this situation, as backups of containers mean that less chassis are available. Furthermore, as good chassis are taken out of terminals, there are more within terminals in need of repairs.
“Chassis pool operators need to understand how percentage of chassis needing repair affects entire terminal throughput,” Hilsenbeck said. He suggested that mechanics proactively prepare chassis to make them “road legal” ahead of time, rather than waiting for drivers to identify needed repairs.
Hilsenbeck also recommended that chassis operators find way to bring back chassis by using incentive systems, such as offering bonuses for bringing back chassis within a certain number of days or even penalizing truckers for failing to bring back chassis on time.
With multiple factors contributing to congestion problems, there is no simple answer. When Smith suggested that it’s up to shippers to put pressure on container lines, terminal operators, drayage companies and truckers to improve the overall drayage system, Larson responded: “The pocketbook is empty,” signaling the need for a more collaborative solution to the congestion problem.