We certainly wish it was the kind of congestion that could be easily relieved with Mucinex or Sudafed, but alas, we are talking about the kind of congestion which creates long truck queues, delayed vessels and missed deliveries. The kind of congestion plaguing West Coast ports and contributing to Black Friday sale items and Christmas merchandise still sitting on the dock. The kind of congestion where the entire network struggles to move containers.
Certainly, one of the main factors contributing to the congestion is the unsettled ILWU contract…more on that later…but a contract agreement will not be the panacea as the causes of the congestion run deep.
The introduction of big ships, carrying two to three times the number of containers of previous vessels, dump a tremendous number containers on dock putting a strain on terminal operations. Additionally, these mega-ships take longer to unload/load, thereby, keeping ships in port longer and disrupting vessel schedules.
The changing chassis model is another reason. As ocean carriers divest themselves of these assets, the chassis providers are challenged to keep up with the necessary supply. It is not just a matter of the number of chassis but also having them available at the specific marine terminal where they are needed.
The growing vessel alliances play a factor in the “equipment challenge” as vessel partners call several terminals within the same port complex. This spreading-out of calls creates inefficiencies in the supply of chassis and containers. Motor carriers are forced to make multiple stops, chassis from one location and container from another, to complete one container move. These multiple stops add to the congestion, queues and ineffectiveness of the supply chain.
The limited gate hours, especially in Oakland, contribute to the backlog. When a marine terminal routinely stops taking transactions at 2:15pm, it makes it very difficult to move the required number of containers off-dock in a day. Basically, if the driver is not inside the terminal gates by lunchtime, he is not getting in. For all intents and purposes, that is a half day’s work lost.
Add to the above factors, the general busy-ness this time of year…exporters are eager to get their newly harvested goods to overseas markets, and importers are eager to get products on the shelves for holiday shoppers…and you have the perfect storm for congestion.