Inbound Logistics | April 2023

D rayage—retrieving shipping containers from one location, usually a local port, and then moving it inland to distribution centers and warehouses, shipping hubs, and retail stores—plays a crucial role in the supply chain throughout the world. It’s particularly important in the United States, which relies on imports.

where it starts and stops. Delays, supply chain constraints, and cost increases for some products can all start with the drayage process.” Before 2020, drayage often was taken for granted. “Shippers just expected the drayage part of the process to go right,” Herpich says. “They also expected inventory levels to be replenished and warehouses to have the goods they needed. But the pandemic hit. Everybody saw inventory go down, warehouses were nearly full, and product usage was at a high level that we weren’t used to. “All of a sudden, drayage became a critical piece in this situation,” he adds. “The question for shippers became, ‘When will I get this product off the ship? How will this move go? When will the shipment get to my warehouse?’” The drayage environment has changed markedly since the supply chain slowdown in 2020. “Currently, drayage drivers can make four to six turns daily in and out of ports, moving containers to staging areas for transloading or cross-docking so the cargo can be moved by rail or truck,” Byrne says. “During the supply chain crisis, drivers were limited to moving about one container daily. “The resulting pile-up at ports was in part because drayage carriers couldn’t effectively do their job,” he notes. AN ARRAY OF CHALLENGE The capacity constraints, congestion, and driver shortages that proved to be drayage challenges early in the pandemic have dissipated as volumes have dropped. During the pandemic, drayage carriers did not feel the need to proactively sell their services as they were just trying to keep up with demand. Today, however, carriers need to work to ensure drivers stay busy and they can keep up with payments on new equipment they acquired to meet previous elevated demand. “Some companies are struggling now,” Mecca says. “There has been a big swing in the drayage space from one extreme to another in fairly short order.”

“When ocean meets land, it is drayage that mobilizes supply chains,” says Kerry Byrne, president of Cincinnati-based TQL, a freight brokerage rm. “About 80% of global trade involves maritime transport. All containerized cargo is transported in and out of ports on drayage chassis.” To put drayage’s role in perspective, the top 25 U.S. container ports handled 39.8 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2020, amounting to 4,500 TEUs passing through ports every hour each day in the United States. “Each one of those containers had to be moved, one or two at a time, on a drayage chassis,” Byrne says. Despite its importance, drayage has often been overlooked among the many components of the supply chain over the years. That changed early in the pandemic, when severe port congestion challenges heightened attention on

drayage. Drayage carriers faced long lines that drastically hampered their productivity and were a striking symbol of the extent of the problems. “The news was full of reports of supply chain hysteria focused on ports and congestion,” says Michael Mecca, CEO and founder of PortPro, a New Jersey- based company that provides a drayage transportation management system. “That news shined a light on drayage.” THE FIRT MILE Drayage is sometimes referred to as the rst mile in logistics, and its importance is linked to that role. “The United States is an import- heavy country,” says Drew Herpich, executive vice president and chief commercial ofcer of Atlanta-based Nolan Transportation Group, which provides freight and third-party logistics solutions. “To some degree, drayage is

Trucks backed up at port gates contributed to the supply chain issues during the pandemic. Many drayage companies are now turning to technology to improve the process.

86 Inbound Logistics • April 2023

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