A Brief History of Drayage

Categories: Port Drayage.

Today’s leading providers of harbor drayage services reflect not only how the industry has evolved over the centuries, but also how the commitment to provide on-time, exceptional customer service in the seamless movement of customer products has remained the same. Here is a look at some of the historic highlights of the industry:

Drayage is as Old as the Shipping Industry

The term drayage comes from the word “dray” –¬† the name for a horse-driven cart with low sides used to transport goods a short distance, such as from a dock to a larger wagon or rail car. The container drayage industry has been around since the first ships carried goods from one port to another. There has always been a need to offload ships and move cargo to a distribution center or transportation system capable of moving items long distances. As technology evolved, trucks eventually replaced the “dray” horses in the early 1900s, providing more power and the ability to move goods more quickly. Computerized tracking systems and low-emission trucks are the current focus to improve service and lessen the impact on the environment.

Drayage Management Systems Track Cargo

One thing that companies never had in the time of horses and wagons were the new computerized drayage management systems that help track cargo from the time it leaves a ship until the final delivery. Companies that either can’t afford or choose not to utilize computer tracking systems are falling behind in the competition to provide the most comprehensive service at ports. Thanks to the success of UPS and FedEx in providing tracking data to residential customers, commercial firms expect the same ability from a container drayage company. It’s important to be able to provide proof of delivery or the status of a shipment whenever a customer requests it. The best drayage firms can point to the location of an item whether it is on a truck or in a warehouse, providing customers with confidence and peace-of-mind.

Environment a Relatively New Concern

Back in the days of the dray horse, about the only environmental concern was who was going to shovel up any droppings left behind. With the emphasis on climate change and the push to cut carbon emissions, today’s drayage companies are challenged to meet environmental standards while still delivering goods on time. The SmartWay Drayage Program is a movement that looks to clean up the environment around ports. As the brainchild of the EPA, Environmental Defense Fund and Coalition for Responsible Transportation, the SmartWay Program calls on all port industries to contribute to solving the problem of foul air. Newer trucks with cleaner emissions are one answer to the problem, but that obviously puts an economic burden on the shoulder of the container drayage companies. The program will offer incentives to companies that meet emission standards, helping to offset some of the cost. Truckers are tasked with reducing particulate matter emissions by at least 50% and nitrous oxide by 25% within three years.

Last Mile is the Most Important One

Although technology has improved the ability to track cargo, the one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the importance of delivering goods on time. Even though a container of goods may have originated deep in the Chinese mainland before beginning a two-week journey hampered by rough seas and bad weather, it’s that last mile that is the ultimate test of the best drayage services.¬†While mega vessels, terminal hours, and many other factors may contribute to a shipment’s delay, the top-notch drayage services of today will continue not only to evolve to meet the challenges, but also to implement new and state-of-the-art ways to surpass them.

For detailed information, maps and contact information for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, be sure to download a free copy of our Comprehensive Port Service Guide.