Improvements at the Ports: Solving the Container Crisis

Categories: Port Drayage.

Unexpected changes to the balance of essential supply chain components have impacted shipping and fulfillment across the country in recent weeks. Ports have faced a number of simultaneous challenges — container shortages, drayage backlogs, and much more — but it looks like things are heading in the right direction thanks to some quick thinking and temporary solutions. After all the supply chain doom and gloom that we’ve heard about in recent months, it’s a welcome change.

Unprecedented bottlenecks at American ports have created backups that left containers stuck on docks for weeks. Much of the problem boils down to a systemic mismanagement of shipping containers. In short, there are too few containers at the port of origin where they are needed, and too many lingering on loading docks and warehouse yards where they aren’t needed.

Supply chain operators are experiencing similar bottlenecks at fulfillment centers and intermodal hubs far from the coastline, a problem further exacerbated by an ongoing scarcity of qualified workers all along the supply chain.

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been hit especially hard. Though not permanent solutions, some adjustments have been proposed to help alleviate the situation at these large and vital ports. Let’s go over some of the proposed solutions and how well they’ve worked so far.

24/7 operations

In October, President Biden announced efforts to expand operating hours at the ports. This much-needed upgrade aligns major ports with the reality of a 24-hour ecommerce cycle, and allows the supply chain to better accommodate unexpected demand spikes. So far though, not a lot of trucks have shown up outside of regular hours.

The hope is that once more dock workers, truckers, and marine terminal operators are scheduled for off-hours, drayage operations and intermodal transport will take off –  and more companies will take advantage of the expanded hours. Only time will tell.

Moving empty containers

Much has been said about the shortage of shipping containers and how it has impacted international trade. However, at this point, there’s arguably less of a shortage than there is an allocation problem. Empty shipping containers are often readily available — they’re just not where they need to be.

To address this challenge, port officials are making strides to reposition empty shipping containers elsewhere. Terminals and shipping lines are being strongly encouraged to accept empty containers, and sweeper vessels are also being sent in to keep the docks clear, easing congestion at drayage and intermodal hubs.

So far, efforts to move empty containers out of the port have started to release capacity, allowing more ships to dock and unload. Given the size and intricacy of the port of LA, it will likely take some time for all operations to be working at full capacity. 

Fines for lingering containers

A streamlined port operation requires compliance from numerous supply chain stakeholders, from carriers to 3PLs to truckers. When one party doesn’t collect their containers in a timely manner, it creates a bottleneck that slows down operations for everyone.

The Ports of LA and Long Beach recently announced new fines for lingering containers on the dock. As of November 22nd, implementation has been pushed out, but the simple threat of fines has helped to make headway — since the fines were announced, there’s been a 33% decline in aging cargo on the docks.

Conclusion

Things have been difficult at American ports over the last eighteen months. From the pandemic to unexpected surges in demand, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have weathered quite a storm, but smart planning has helped to improve the situation considerably.

While the holiday season is sure to put even more pressure on port operations, it seems that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully conditions will continue to improve.

A 3PL partner like GlobeCon can help you navigate an uncertain supply chain climate by combining experience, technology, and capacity to get your cargo where it needs to be faster. We provide a number of services at the Port of LA and Long Beach, including portside warehousing, freight forwarding, intermodal drayage support, and more. We’re your trusted partner at the port.

Connect with a leading technology partner at the Ports of LA and Long Beach. Contact us.