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Ports Unplugged: Navigating the Complexities of Drayage Logistics

Published on
April 9, 2024
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When done right, drayage works as effortlessly as a simple handoff done so often in a football game.

The reality couldn’t be more different. Drayage logistics is wrought with high complexity and challenges for drayage operators and their customers. One wrong move, poor planning, or the inability to make adjustments in real-time can cause delays, lost cargo, create costly fines and penalties, and, ultimately, alienate customers.

So while it may look easy, like a duck on the water, know that it is paddling like mad under the water to keep up. You just don’t see it when done right.

And that is where experienced 3PLs such as VCPB Transportation come in, providing specialized drayage management solutions. The following is a quick look at the daily challenges for drayage trucking companies and their customers.

Today’s Drayage Providers Face a Challenging Logistics Landscape

Drayage logistics is the first and perhaps the most critical link in the supply chain, often to keep perishables from spoiling in transit or to move containers to ports, terminals, other trucks, or hubs. Cargo transfers – drayage – typically occur several times before freight reaches its final destination. Whether the move is a few hundred feet or a few miles, it is essential all drayage logistics be accounted for every step of the way.

Failure in drayage logistics can create multiple problems for the supply chain. According to the Intermodal Association of North America, more than 60 million drayage loads occur annually, making it a $6 billion industry. That number is expected to climb significantly over the next few years, causing more congestion and an increasing need for accurate drayage logistics. Some of the challenges all drayage trucking companies and their customers face:

  • Coordinating transportation with shipping schedules.  
  • Managing the logistics of port transportation, including compliance with regulations and paperwork.
  • Ensuring the safety and security of goods while in transit.
  • Dealing with varying timelines, overcrowded container spaces, and the high cost of drayage management. Avoiding demurrage and detention fees is critical for drayage companies.
  • Securing truck chassis to haul marine containers on land. There has been a chassis shortage in drayage trucking in recent years; without them, shipping containers can’t move out of and back to port, and delay penalties and supply chain bottlenecks come into play.

Fees and Charges in Drayage Logistics

Perhaps the most frustrating or maddening part of drayage is the excess fees that quickly add up when drayage logistics fail. How bad can it be? Here is an example of charges and penalties at Georgia Ports. Some of the most common costs:

  • Chassis split fees
  • Drop fees
  • Accessorial Fees
  • Base Fees
  • Fuel surcharges
  • Storage
  • Overweight charges
  • Hazmat or refrigerated fees
  • Demurrage (Delays in loading and unloading)

And that list just scratches the surface.  

Challenges in Drayage Logistics

The more we learn about drayage logistics, the more it feels like the best prescription would be, “Take two Tylenol and call me when the cargo arrives.”

Life should be so simple, but that’s not how it works in the freight-moving world.

This is where a reliable and experienced 3PL stands out by using trusted partners, providing real-time updates, and customer-based solutions. All of it lessens the drayage headaches and angst. Some of the problems drayage logistics companies deal with:

  • Challenges arising from managing fluctuating freight volumes.
  • Challenges in adapting to sudden changes or delays in cargo arrival.
  • Issues with the return and management of empty containers.
  • Complications arise from appointments and scheduling.
  • Persistent inefficiencies and outdated processes.
  • Challenges in optimizing gate moves and terminal operations.
  • The financial burden and operational constraints due to demurrage and detention charges.

Effective Strategies for Managing Drayage Logistics

If anything good came out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be that it highlighted the importance of drayage logistics, and that the “this is how we’ve always done it” idea isn’t good enough anymore.

Progressive Drayage companies are embracing new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, and smartly implementing them into their daily operations to reduce costs and keep freight from bottlenecking. By leaning more on technology, real-time adjustments can be made, temperatures are better tracked, and routes are quickly adjusted to be more efficient. The drayage industry has discovered the urgency of becoming much more responsive and much quicker.

Simply put, a strategic drayage plan saves both the drayage company and its customers time and money.

Some keys to success:

Synchronizing Transportation With Shipping Schedules

Drayage is often referred to as the first mile, and getting these short exchanges right and on time throughout the shipment makes it the backbone of the freight industry.

Drayage logistics companies have to schedule the entire route before the cargo is even brought to port and be able to track every more in real-time. The planning has to take into account the driver’s availability, rates, and the availability of assets such as chassis. It is a process repeated every step of the way and requires working with the interfaces of warehouses, ports, regulation agencies, ocean freight companies, and drivers.

Overcoming Overcrowded Ports and Chassis Shortages

In August 2023, Global Trade Magazine highlighted the challenges drayage companies face. At the top of the list is a lack of chassis availability.

Approximately 35 million domestic and international containers are delivered annually in the United States, but it is estimated that only 700,000 chassis are currently available to handle those loads. New chassis can’t be built fast enough. The wait time for a new chassis is about 18 months.

The lack of chassis has cast a brighter spotlight on drayage logistics because the worst thing for the supply chain is when cargo can’t move, and drayage trucks sit in line at port, idling and waiting for the go-ahead for pick up or delivery. Excess penalties and fees can occur while cargo sits, trucks idle, and gas is burned.

Utilizing New Tools Such As Drayage 360

KlearNow has developed Drayage 360 that is helping the industry through technology. Importers are using it to streamline the drayage process. The platform is dedicated to drayage management. It starts with selecting drayage operators in advance and simplifies the management of inland movement of containers.

VCPB’s Specialty: Optimizing Drayage Operations to Save Customers Time and Money

No matter how many times your team practices its handoffs, the bottom line is the complex world of drayage logistics is never going to get easier, and being proactive is the key to success.

This is why more shipping companies are turning to VCPB, a 3PL specializing in simplifying the complicated.

VCPB services all of North America and expertly navigates the world of imports and exports.

If you’re not sure if your container has arrived at a North American Marine Terminal, or if your freight has been refused by an ocean carrier or they refuse to move it any further, if your drayage carrier has refused service or is unavailable because of an unforeseen issue – VCPB can offer expedited solutions.

Some other items we help with:

  • Containers requiring expedited Intermodal routings.
  • Containers requiring expedited Over the Road Transfers-Heavyweight Containers,
  • Hazardous or Restricted Commodities.
  • Import Containers that require re-routing off modified B/Ls.
  • VCPB is a one-stop shop, capable of performing and executing every step and making arrangements from pier pickup to ultimate delivery to the customer.
  • One-way intact inland door deliveries with local area empty equipment termination.
  • Containers requiring pier-pull transload to domestic intermodal or Over the Road modes.
  • Containers that have short- or long-term storage options.

Contact VCPB today to learn more.

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