US West Coast port congestion woes still echo through supply chains

US West Coast port congestion woes still echo through supply chains

ISELIN, New Jersey — Ripples of disruption from the West Coast port crisis are still affecting supply chains, shippers said at the JOC Ports Performance North America Conference.

“There’s a misperception that it only affected us for a limited time,” Willis Weirich, senior group manager of international transportation for retailer Target said at the two-day event here.

The impact of last year’s labor dispute, which nearly brought West Coast port operations to a halt from last November through February “is much bigger and longer than that,” Weirich said. “It’s had a long-term impact on how we plan for supply chain disruptions,” he told the conference during a panel on shipper perspectives on port performance and congestion problems.

Target also imported back-to-school goods much earlier than usual this year, “and that’s a ripple from the West Coast disruption,” Weirich said. “There obviously was a lead-time impact.”

The chaos of last fall and winter has been replaced by calm at most North America ports, speakers on the shipper panel said, but shippers shouldn’t expect that calm to last. “Slow volumes cover sins,” transportation consultant Dean Tracy said. “When volumes pick up, the issues that have plagued the terminals and the carriers will resurface again.”

Tracy, a former logistics director and now head of Global Integrated Services, identified those problems as terminal congestion, a shortage of drayage operators, and chassis availability.

“The problems are not fixed, but they’re being covered because volumes are low” compared with the fall of 2014, he said. When it comes to solutions, “things aren’t happening fast enough.”

Shippers are part of the problems plaguing container throughput and have to be part of the solution, speakers at the conference said. “We’re complicit in some of this as well,” Weirich said. “When we don’t provide good forecasting data, we create some of our own congestion.”

Conflicts between the deadlines importers set for delivery of containers and terminal gate times also cause congestion, and truck appointment systems may not help, a drayage carrier said.

“We all have bosses, and our boss is our customer,” said Jeffrey Bader, CEO of Golden Carriers and president of the Association of Bi-State Harbor Truckers in New York and New Jersey.

The Port of New York and New Jersey’s Global Marine Terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey, sometimes has 500 trucks lined up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. to get in the gates at 6 am, Bader said. Setting a truck appointment for 11 a.m. won’t help a carrier with a 10 a.m. delivery deadline at a local warehouse or distribution center, Bader said during a panel on appointment systems.

“Our boss (the shipper) says we need that container as soon as you can get it,” Bader said. “If I don’t get on those (terminal gate) lines early, I don’t get into that terminal that day.”

Shippers in major port markets, as well as warehouse and distribution companies, may have to receive more cargo during off-peak hours, which could mean hiring more receivers.

“Market forces are going to drive the supply chain to move to longer hours,” said Bethann Rooney, assistant director for port performance initiatives at the New York-New Jersey port.

But if shippers have to make changes to their operations, harbor truckers, ports and terminals will have to adjust as well. “We’re often asked what the shipper wants,” said Donald Pisano, president of American Coffee Corp. “It’s really very basic. We tell carriers and terminal operators that cargo is king. They’re in business to serve the cargo, not each other.”

Contact William B. Cassidy at bill.cassidy@ihs.com and follow him on Twitter: @wbcassidy_joc