Drayage Crisis 2014

Drayage Crisis 2014

The fallout from the winter’s freeze and chain of storms underscores the systemic problems in North America’s port drayage infrastructure.

Congestion and delays at some of the largest North American ports — New York-New Jersey and Virginia on the East Coast and Los Angeles-Long Beach in the West — were percolating even before frustration among drayage drivers boiled over at Port Metro Vancouver in late February and March in the form of a walkout by union and non-union truckers.

As Bruce Wargo, president of the PierPass extended-gates program at Los Angeles-Long Beach, told the JOC’s TPM Conference just as the Vancouver strike was beginning, “Trucker dissatisfaction with marine terminals is not a local phenomenon. It’s a symptom of the real problem, which is the traditional delivery process most terminals have in place today.”

That process is only complicated by ever-larger ships straining terminals already constricted by the lack of 24/7 operations, a shortage of chassis equipment and truck drivers, and a cost-is-king philosophy among all supply chain interests that equates to no one ponying up the money that could help eliminate the chokepoints.

Perhaps most disturbing for beneficial cargo owners is that the powder keg is exploding at the slowest time of the year for North American imports. With the economy showing signs of accelerating, forecasts calling for strengthening volumes in the months ahead, and potential slowdowns looming this spring and summer during West Coast longshore labor talks, productivity could go from boiling over to imploding later this year.

Some ports are trying to get ahead of the problem, even if they’re already behind. New York-New Jersey and Virginia have formed task forces represented by various supply chain interests aimed at finding ways to improve port performance, including drayage issues.

The question is whether any proposals that emerge will be in time to prevent a complete breakdown. “At the rate things are going,” said Tom Heimgartner, president of Newark, N.J.-based drayage operator Best Transportation, “some of us may not be around” for any solutions to matter.

Special Coverage

Thumbnail of Drayage Flashpoints graphic
With the spring retail season at hand, the U.S. economy showing signs of accelerating and the import peak season six months away, there’s growing concern that shippers and their supply chains will feel the impact unless systemic problems with how containers flow from ships through ports to inland destinations are addressed.

News & Analysis

11 Sep 2014
Hub Group said it expects its costs to rise at least temporarily with the company’s conversion of its 350 California drayage drivers to company employees in order to settle litigation alleging they were misclassified as independent contractors.
09 Sep 2014
With turn times of 30 to 45 minutes, the Port of Charleston is a model for the efficient handling of drayage trucks, but that doesn’t mean the South Carolina port is paradise for harbor truckers.
08 Sep 2014
The so-called truck driver shortage largely has benefited intermodal rail — until now. Trucking’s increasing difficulty finding drivers to pilot big rigs has helped shift freight to intermodal containers, but it could also threaten future intermodal growth.
19 Aug 2014
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission is moving forward in a fledgling effort to reduce long truck wait times at some ports in the U.S. by holding a forum in Southern California next month and another in Baltimore in the fall.
Port Metro Vancouver
29 Jul 2014
Last winter, congestion at Port Metro Vancouver was so bad that it triggered a month-long strike by hundreds of truck drivers. Four months later, turn times are averaging less than an hour.
26 Jul 2014
Drayage drivers serving New York-New Jersey port terminals said at a weekend forum that they need quick action to reduce turn times that require them to sit in long queues for several hours a day without full compensation.

Commentary

Ocean carriers’ relentless drive to reduce costs is starting to show results, but everyone else is paying a heavy price.