Drayage, the business of carrying cargo containers by truck from a port terminal to a distribution center, warehouse, or rail ramp, is in a god-awful mess right now at ports from California to New Jersey.
- Shortages of chassis and dislocations of chassis, meaning that chassis are in the wrong places at a port when truckers need to put a container on a chassis and move it to a distribution center. The chassis problems mean delays for truckers.
- Growing frustration among drayage drivers and shortages of drivers.
- Bigger ships bringing more containers when they arrive at a port.
- A labor dispute between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators and shipping companies.
“The current congestion issues that we’re facing now are unprecedented, both nationally and in the San Pedro Bay port complex [the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles],” said Alex Cherin, a former executive at the Port of Long Beach who is now senior vice president at Englander Knabe & Allen, a Los Angeles lobbying and public policy firm.
Cherin spoke at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting in Washington Wednesday.
“Although the current PMA/ILWU contract negotiations are a component of that congestion, they are not the only component. The congestion issues that we face… pre-dated the contract dispute between the PMA and the ILWU,“ he said.
Part of the congestion problem is the PierPass program at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which incentivizes a shift of truck traffic from daytime to nighttime hours (by charging a premium for daytime service). Cherin said PierPass has caused truck backups to build right before 6 p.m. when the daytime premium ends.
PierPass “needs to be re-structured,” he said, suggesting tier pricing and other steps to thin out traffic.
Curtis Whalen, executive director of the Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference, which is an affiliated conference of the American Trucking Associations, told the TRB audience that they shouldn’t think that “there is somehow a plan that gets us from where we are to where we want to be. There is none. From a trucker’s perspective, this is really chaos right now.”
He added, “I’m definitely a pessimist on a lot of this” because the drayage and ports puzzle has so many interlocking parts that the participants (terminal owners, shipping companies, truckers, cargo owners, etc.) can’t fully control.
For drayage drivers, the delays mean lost income.
They “are paid by the trip, they’re not paid by time; they’re not paid by the mile; they’re paid by the pickup and the drop-off, so if they only can accomplish one turn a day, that’s what they’re getting paid for,” noted Thomas O’Brien at the Center for International Trade & Transportation at California State University in Long Beach.
“The structure of the drayage industry makes them the weak link in the supply chain in many ways.”