Transportation
Summer 2018

Increased Congestion at the Ports Leads to Problems for the Trucking Industry

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With an estimated ninety percent (90%) of global trade carried by sea, coupled with increased demand, worldwide congestion at ports has created significant problems for the trucking industry as motor carriers and port personnel continue to struggle with how to combat increasing turn times. “Turn time” is the time required to complete an activity cycle, which is the time a truck takes to make a trip to the port, to a customer location, and back to the home yard. Historically, truck turn time received little attention from terminal operators because port congestion was never a barrier to their operations. However, the surge and explosive growth in containerized trade has led to increasing problems with congestion, requiring terminals to develop new ways to accommodate the high truck traffic. The rapid growth in cargo volume has also led to serious concerns such as port capacity limits, traffic congestions, pollution, and overall health and reliability of the international supply chain.

The trucking industry in particular has been hit hard by the increasing port congestion. Due to the congestion, drivers routinely sit at the ports waiting for their load for hours at a time. With drivers now spending more time at the port, frustration among drivers is mounting, as drivers are unable to complete the number of trips necessary to earn their living. This frustration will ultimately lead to drivers leaving the industry. In a time where qualified drivers are in high demand, driver retention is a serious concern for motor carriers. Continued inefficiencies at the port and the inability to decrease turn times further complicates the already widespread issues related to the driver shortage.

Severe problems are created at ports when drivers can’t move through terminals effectively. The increase in turn times is, in part, due to a high volume of containers passing through the ports, but is exacerbated by inefficiencies at the ports themselves as the ports struggle to find ways to keep up with increasing container volumes. In an effort to increase efficiency and decrease congestion to reduce turn times, ports across the country are working to implement new systems and procedures.

The Port of Baltimore is no exception. The Maryland Port Administration released a press release on June 11, 2018 indicating that the Port of Baltimore handled 156,991 containers in the first quarter of 2018 alone, an increase of 14% when compared to the first quarter of 2017. This is the most cargo the Port has handled in the Port’s 312 year existence. According to the press release, the Port of Baltimore also handled 1,000,571 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) during the 12 month period ending April 30, 2018; the first time the Port of Baltimore has exceeded 1,000,000 TEUs in any 12-month period during its existence. With record-breaking amounts of cargo passing through the Port of Baltimore, it is no surprise that the Port, like other ports around the country, is struggling to find solutions to cope with the increased volume and congestion.

The Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore is experiencing some of the worst issues with congestion and increased turn times. In an attempt to combat the issues and the increasing frustration on the part of intermodal motor carriers and drivers alike, the Seagirt Marine terminal has taken numerous actions. The terminal has announced the implementation of a new web portal that allows drivers, freight forwarders, agents, brokers, and motor carriers to quickly check the status of cargo and transactions. The web portal also gives the option of having alert notifications sent directly to a user’s email address or mobile number when there is an update on the status of cargo. Additionally, the Seagirt Marine Terminal has relocated its chassis depot off site (but in close proximity) in an attempt to cut down on congestion. In January 2018, the Port of Baltimore also purchased 6 new cranes for the Seagirt Marine Terminal in an attempt to alleviate congestion and decrease turn times. While this appears to be a step in the right direction, not all of the cranes were immediately put into use and not all of them have been consistently operating at one time.

Overall, port turn times have been slowing due to congestion, high volume and demand, and overall inefficiencies spent in waiting for loading and unloading of cargo due to capacity limits. Port personnel and motor carriers are struggling to find ways to address the issues. Regular meetings between port and terminal officials and motor carriers are critical in helping to identify inefficiencies within the ports and strategies for addressing them. While many of the strategies for combatting increased turn times are now based on trial and error, studies are being conducted to help formulate and facilitate improved policies to combat slow turn times, and technological developments such as web interface applications and GPS monitoring may help to increase efficiency.

Overall, port turn times have been slowing due to congestion, high volume and demand, and overall inefficiencies spent in waiting for loading and unloading of cargo due to capacity limits. Port personnel and motor carriers are struggling to find ways to address the issues. Regular meetings between port and terminal officials and motor carriers are critical in helping to identify inefficiencies within the ports and strategies for addressing them. While many of the strategies for combatting increased turn times are now based on trial and error, studies are being conducted to help formulate and facilitate improved policies to combat slow turn times, and technological developments such as web interface applications and GPS monitoring may help to increase efficiency.

For more information about this article, please contact Renee Bowen at 410.230.3943.