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

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.
01 Jul 2014
Beneficial cargo owners and harbor trucking companies that consistently experience long turn times at container terminals may want to fire their ocean carriers.
File photo of Pier T at the Port of Long Beach
30 Jun 2014
With a potential U.S. West Coast labor disruption just days away, truck traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is reportedly slow and congested, making it difficult for some shippers to get containers out of the port complex that handles 40 percent of U.S. trade.
24 Jun 2014
An industry group seeking ways to improve performance of the Port of New York and New Jersey has issued 23 recommendations covering chassis, trucking, communication, performance indicators, and more.
19 Jun 2014
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission wants to ease congestion at ports and is considering hosting a forum for terminal operators and drayage drivers to discuss how to speed the movement of containerized goods at the gates.
14 May 2014
Port Metro Vancouver is capitalizing on a lull in cargo activity before the peak-shipping season begins this summer to implement key aspects of the most ambitious effort in North America to improve truck turn times.

Commentary

It’s a well-established axiom in the intermodal world that the drayage carrier has always been the low man on the totem pole.