The Last Mile – Port Drayage Truckers

When importing a widget manufactured in China, the ocean voyage is typically 2+ weeks. With increasing satellite telematics capabilities, a container loaded with widgets can be tracked from the time the container arrives at the origin port awaiting the ocean vessel to be loaded for arrival at your requested port. What happens next is called the Last Mile, the most important leg of the trip.

As vessels get bigger and bigger along the companies that operate them (18,500 TEU super-container ship), the terminals get mega-sized too so they can handle the avalanche of containers offloaded from each vessel.

For a Port Drayage Trucker the container you’re just about to receive is the most important one, but in recent years it has become totally unpredictable whether you get the container on time for the last mile journey. The last mile of the container life cycle is the most impactful on the customer and reflects on the entire Intermodal Chain whether good or bad.

The causes of the Last Mile failures are many. Experts have talked about contributing factors such as the Mega-Vessels, Mega-Terminals/terminal congestion, ILWU labor; Chassis, CARB truck capacity, Terminal Hours, yet the experts ignore many solutions.

The Port Drayage Trucker is a key part of the Intermodal Supply Chain that is normally undervalued when it comes to resolving the port congestion problems.

Solutions to the Last Mile Congestion can only be resolved when you take into consideration what truckers have to deal with on a daily basis.

Loyalty to the Port Drayage Trucker

Customers tend to switch motor carriers at the slightest hint of a problem only to find out it’s an Intermodal Supply Chain issue rather than a trucking issue. Some of the solutions that would help resolve many of the issues affecting productivity and efficiency are:

  • Resolve standards for Independent vs Employee: Over 600 trucking companies are under attack by organizing driven campaigns and the weapon of choice is the issue of Independent vs Employee debate. Our lawmakers need to wake up and fix this issue rather than making it a political game dragging good companies out-of-business.
  • CARB: Clean air was the intention but through the rulemaking process this has become politically driven process and the end result is CARB has lost credibility as a clean air advocate and the Port Drayage Industry has lost good drivers and owner-operators.
  • Chassis: The Ocean Carriers decided to circumvent the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules to improve chassis safety by not providing chassis as was the norm in the United States, most of the chassis were bought by the largest leasing companies or sold for export to control the market by creating an artificial shortage. Special deals are given to Ocean Carriers by leasing companies that cloud the fairness line.
  • Automation: The automation debate at the Ports has been going on for decades; truckers have seen less dock workers in some areas and more in others, some good for the truckers and some very bad. You can’t communicate with a machine; there are times you just need to interact with a human to resolve an issue.
  • The Driver Factor: The driver is the most valuable asset for a trucking company and when discussing the movement of containers often the driver is viewed as a machine. Reference is made to them labeling them as a “truck” with no consideration to the human being driving the machine that delivers container to a customer.
  • Use of Technology: Use of technology on par with the rest of Intermodal Supply Chain is lacking for trucking companies. As hard as it might be to match how Ocean Carriers use technology, this is a must for trucking companies. Communication is the key to quickly respond to the dynamically changing business environment at the Ports.
  • Hours of Service/Meal and Rest Breaks: Issues that have become murky with recent court decisions, is the Port Drayage Trucker operating under Intrastate or Interstate HOS rules? This has become a second line of attack on every trucking company located in California that operates company owned trucks and hire employee drivers.
  • Are larger vessels really causing congestion? The excuse that congestion is caused by Mega-Vessels is misleading. From the Port Drayage Truckers perspective, the reduction of Demurrage free days to pick up containers over a reasonable time period is the cause of congestion. As more Ports delegate the collection of demurrage charges to Marine Terminal Operators (MTO’s) charges have skyrocketed which affects the efficiency of the trucker dispatch. Truckers are forced to bunch the trucks in 3 day period to pick up containers running out of time at the terminals and that causes the truckers limited land to be at over capacity for storage.

MTO’s change the rules to make their operations more efficient without regard to how that impacts Port Drayage Truckers. Changing operational hours on the fly, taking critical holidays off, higher volumes, hours of operation not increased, closing yard locations for pick of imports sometimes hourly, changing the receiving of exports dates, not receiving of empty containers, chassis use restrictions, and drivers shut out of a terminal without due process on a whim, and not taking responsibility are examples of self-defeating policies.

There is much speculation of the effect on west-coast ports when a widened Panama Canal opens. Left unresolved, these are the types of issues that will cause cargo diversion leaving many in the port unemployed. But hey, at least the air will be clean!