There has been much hand wringing at several major North American ports because of the backlog of drayage trucks and associated cargo delays. Marine terminals have had problems handling greater concentrations of cargo at one time with the advent of large vessels. Limited resources and experience dealing with changing cargo flows have primarily impacted container yards, often leading to long queues at the gate and delivery delays for consignees.
Truck drivers, the vast majority of whom are independent operators financing their own rigs, complain of average wait times frequently in excess of two hours and some turn-times that can last four or five hours.
But the Port of Charleston gets relatively high marks from local draymen for its efficiency in cycling trucks in with inbound and outbound loads through its facilities.
Executives from logistics companies that provide drayage service said at the South Carolina International Trade Conference in early September that they can make at least five roundtrips to customers each day because of Charleston’s smooth system. The primary cause of delays in the Charleston area is road congestion because of inadequate highway infrastructure in the area.
According to port authority estimates and anecdotal reports, turn-times for truckers—from the time they are greeted at the pedestal booth, make a double equipment interchange and exit—average 30 to 60 minutes, a mark that would be greeted with envy in places such as Southern California and New York/New Jersey.
But South Carolina Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome is not satisfied with the port’s performance.
Trucking “is the thing that can limit growth at the ports if we don’t address it successfully. We have to find a way to use this resource more intelligently, remunerate it better, or we run the risk of losing it,” he said in his annual state-of-the-port address.
Owner-operators are typically paid a flat fee per move and do not get reimbursed for time when delays occur. Low pay and lost revenue sitting in lines, combined with escalating costs for fuel, insurance, truck payments or leases, and stricter safety regulations limiting a drivers time behind the wheel have made it difficult for truckers to make a decent living. Drivers are leaving the port-shuttle sector in droves and logistics companies say they are finding it increasingly difficult to find replacements.
SCPA plans to extend gate hours next year to provide further off-peak options for motor carriers, Newsome said. As a port operator, the authority has the advantage of controlling activity at all its facilities.
“We are going to do everything possible to make them successful, get them in and out of our gates fast,” the port director added. “It bothers me when I see a trucker waiting for a lift machine.”
Charleston’s three container terminals already operate 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. Newsome told reporters afterwards that he plans to open gates between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
“If you run ship operations seven days a week and you run truck operations five days a week that’s a disconnect,” he said. The port is also supporting rail service to the inland port in Greer six to seven days a week.
Newsome encouraged shippers to extend receiving times at their docks, too, so that truckers can make their deliveries when traffic is light.
“Our role is to make sure [drivers] have enough gate hours, they have quick turns so they can make a decent living,” he said. Even though the average turn-time seems acceptable, he said, “what I want to do is avoid the person who is stuck somewhere for 90 minutes” waiting for a chassis to be repaired or some other reason.
This article was published in the November 2014 issue of American Shipper.