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Port delays driving dray drivers away, RoadOne says

Port delays driving dray drivers away, RoadOne says
William B. Cassidy, Senior Editor | Oct 13, 2014 JOURNAL OF COMMERCE

The shortage of truck drivers on U.S. highways is affecting drayage operations at port terminals and inland railheads, too. Frustrated by port congestion and chassis shortages, drayage drivers increasingly are looking for other jobs both in and out of trucking.

That “outward migration” of drayage drivers and trucks threatens to slow shipper supply chains to a crawl as container chassis shortages, port congestion and drayage delay times get worse, Ken Kellaway, president and CEO of RoadOne IntermodaLogistics, told JOC.com.

“So many significant changes in the intermodal supply chain have negatively impacted freight flow that the owner – operators and drivers are taking a hit,” said Kellaway, whose company is one of the largest international and domestic intermodal container haulers in the U.S.

With more than 1,000 drayage drivers operating from 40 U.S. locations, RoadOne is struggling with a rising driver turnover rate. The No. 1 reason drivers cite for leaving drayage, Kellaway said, is frustration with waiting times at rail ramps and at ports.

“It’s getting to the point where we could have a backlash,” he said. “The global supply chain is a $7 trillion sector, but it depends on the $10 billion drayage sector in the U.S. If we can’t get the freight from the ports to distribution centers, the entire model starts to collapse.”

For a glimpse of just such a catastrophe, look no further than the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, he said. The largest U.S. port complex is reeling from terminal congestion caused by strong cargo volumes, a severe chassis shortage and poor intermodal rail service.

The neighboring ports have struggled with chassis shortages, rail service delays and unusually long truck turn times for much of the year. In the early fourth quarter, the congestion continues to get worse, and port officials largely blame chassis “dislocations.”

“The root cause is chassis,” Jon Slangerup, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, told JOC.com last week. That complaint is echoed at ports across the U.S. Where shipping lines no longer provide chassis, locating chassis has become time-consuming and chaotic.

“The whole chassis conundrum has put extensive pressure on the drayage community,” Kellaway said. “The chassis pool has been put off-site, and that requires additional moves and waiting time. We’ve got to go get the chassis, wherever it’s located, and bring it back.”

That’s like going to a supermarket and being told you have to go to another store to get a shopping cart, Kellaway said. And offering chassis in separate, non-swappable pools is like being required to get one cart for the produce section, and another for the deli, he said.

Two major chassis-leasing companies, DLCI and TRAC Intermodal- will add 3,000 chassis over the next few weeks at the Port of Long Beach as part of a short-term relief effort. But in the long run, the ports need a “gray” pool of interchangeable chassis, Kellaway said. “It needs to become one gray pool so whatever chassis we grab, we can use it,” he said. In addition, Los Angeles and
Long Beach “have to figure out what to do with these larger vessels coming in, and they’ve got to a get a labor agreement finished” with longshore workers.

Kellaway also says port terminals need to get better at moving drivers, and containers, through their gates. “A lot of terminals, whether they’re going through a technology change, are low on staffing, or are handling larger vessels, they’ve got longer wait times,” he said.

The shift from picking up pre-mounted containers on chassis at port terminals to “live lift” operations once an unloaded chassis from a pool arrives at the terminal adds hours to the time it takes to get a container from a port to a customer and return the chassis, he said.

“The result is fewer turn times per drivers, which means a dramatic reduction in revenue for the drivers, and no one wants to step up and take responsibility for that,” Kellaway said.

“There are multiple stakeholders, and we all need to take responsibility for the parts we affect.”

Some terminals only measure drayage driver wait times from their gates, which is like “a coffee shop saying there’s no line before you arrive at the register,” he said. If a driver can’t get through the entire process in two hours, “then he should get delay time,” he said.

“Trucker dissatisfaction with marine terminals is not a local phenomenon,” Bruce of the PierPass extended-gates program at Los Angeles-Long Beach, said during a drayage panel at the JOC’s 2014 TPM Conference in March. “It’s a symptom of the real problem, which is the traditional delivery process most terminals have in place today.”

Transportation consultant Tioga Group estimates that drayage delays add $348 million a year in unnecessary costs to the supply chain including 15 million hours of lost work time and 9 million gallons of diesel fuel. Unfortunately, progress toward a better process is slow.

At the end of the day, “Somebody has to pay the drivers,” Kellaway said. “We need to get these guys justly compensated so they can make a decent living. At least we have to make it more attractive for those who are interest ed in being in the blue collar sector.”

Otherwise, those owner-operators hauling containers will take their trucks and go to the energy business, or over -the-road trucking companies that desperately need drivers.

New England Motor Freight, a regional less-than-truckload carrier with waterfront headquarters at the Port of Elizabeth, New Jersey, gets plenty of “walk-in” driver applicants from drayage operations, President Tom Connery said in an interview. “We have no problem recruiting in places like Elizabeth where there’s a lot of heavy truck traffic,” he said.

Those truck drivers can get LTL delivery or line-haul jobs where they’ll be home every day, or truckload jobs or even drayage jobs at NEMF, which has its own fleet of chassis.

In the past 10 years, port drayage has grown from a negligible business for NEMF to represent 8 to 10 percent of the company’s revenue, Connery said. “There were such delays in getting chassis that we bought our own, and that’s worked out very well,” he said.