6 Current Causes of Port Congestion

It’s the same story all over the country: the ports at Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Virginia, New York and New Jersey suffer from gridlock that causes delays and stacks untold costs affecting every level of the supply chain. The causes of port congestion are varied and complicated, but here is a short list of some of the most recent major issues.

  1. Chassis Shortage – This has been a difficult issue that only appears to be getting worse. Major oceans carriers have largely pulled out of the chassis business, and many more have announced that they plan to exit in the future. Many existing chassis have been sidelined due to maintenance requirements. Chassis demand is high, thus the costs – even for rentals – are also getting higher.
  2. Inclement Weather – Shipping will always be at the mercy of bad weather, so everyone does their best to just buckle down and push through it. But every now and then, there is weather that simply makes working impossible. Such has been the case on the East Coast over the last few years, where rough weather patterns battered differing parts of the Eastern Seaboard, causing massive delays from Savannah to New York. And these were not one day storms that came and went. The weather often involved prolonged storms that directly impacted shipping and the lingering impact – such as the traffic delays from the snowstorm in Georgia – caused truckers to lose a full day’s work.
  3. Industrial Action – Strikes happen. The West Coast labor dispute in 2012. The current 2013 issues in Oakland, where they are dealt with truck driver strikes raised over new initiatives regarding truck maintenance and port strikes related to work-rule changes. Every year, at every port, it seems like a labor stoppage is imminent.
  4. Labor Shortages – Over the last few years, there has been an increasing shortage of truckers. Attempts to remedy this issue have been unsuccessful thus far. Some blame it on a generational gap between older and younger drivers. Some truckers argue that trucking – due to wages and overall treatment – is no longer viewed as career, but rather a job, thus decreasing the number of long-term workers. Whatever the reason, the shortage of drivers affects everyone in the supply chain.
  5. Spikes in Demand – It happens all the time. At an already busy port, some officials crunch the numbers and realize that there will be a 2% increase in cargo volume over the next two months. Two percent doesn’t sound like much on the surface, but that extra cargo makes a big difference in port efficiency, especially if there isn’t extra staff on hand to shoulder the load.
  6. Customs Slowdowns – This became a major issue last year because of government budget sequestration and furloughs that resulted in Customs officials being unavailable at certain times. But even after the government shutdown concluded, there were still issues with availability of officials, which was not helped by the already backlogged agenda. In 2014, the issue with customs is tied to reduced staffs at the ports.

Murphy’s Law is in full effect at the ports and the companies that manage to survive the chaos are the ones that plan ahead and know how to navigate around the stream of roadblocks.

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