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Check Call: Starting with the man in the mirror

Down goes the number of waiting ships | Canada can’t chill out

Check Call the Show. News and Analysis for 3PLs and Freight Brokers.

Hot Take


No one really wants to take a long, hard look in the mirror, let alone spend the time reviewing their internal processes. Auditing isn’t just for your freight invoices. There’s a lot to be said for internal process audits. Just because that’s how something has always been done doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be that way. 

Here’s the thing: When you start to go through the stages of internal audit (planning, field work — the actual audit), reporting and follow-up, it can seem daunting to even know where to start. It doesn’t have to be fancy or overly complicated. Just listen to your employees.

For example, if account managers are saying they don’t have time to do monthly training exercises, then start there. What are their daily tasks? How many are there? What is taking up so much of the time? 

It could be something simple, like they have too many customers and they need to siphon some off to another person to give them more time. If that’s not the case, then how are they doing the work? Are they creating more work for themselves? Are there too many time-wasting activities? 

Take their chief complaint, really take it apart. See what tasks you can do without, what you can roll up into an automated process, and what can be assigned to someone else who may have an easier time completing the tasks. 

If you do things in a way that you’ve always done without striving for improvement or efficiency, then you’ll be stuck with the same old processes and wasting potential revenue-building opportunities.

It doesn’t have to be a massive overhaul of every process at one time. Pick one area at a time and in time you’ll make it to all the others, maybe even get some two-for-ones along the way. 

When you take the time to make sure people are happy, not wasting their time, the support is there; it will show in your revenue. To save an hour a day for one account manager requesting status updates on loads in transit, maybe you get a report automatically sent to them daily that has updates on every shipment that didn’t deliver on time and the reason for it. 

There’s more time in the day to breathe and make sure that customers are truly happy and feel their needs are being met.

Quick Hits


What if I told you the congestion off the West Coast was improving? Would you believe me? I wouldn’t believe me either, but levels aren’t getting worse. Whether it’s a false hope of a peak, it’s too soon to tell, but the current number of container ships waiting for berths is at 78, the lowest in three months. On Jan. 9, the record reached 109. A 31-ship decrease in a month seems pretty significant. 

A variety of reasons could explain the drop-off: Lunar New Year, tight COVID restrictions. But the one that sticks out to me is the American people. The amount of spending has stagnated or people have shifted from buying goods to seeking experiences. Basically, everyone’s all bought out. Consumer debt is at an all-time high and as the world gets a hold on the pandemic, I think travel and experiences will become the new thing. People are leaving their homes and making up for the past two years of missed experiences.

This will drastically affect the spot market. It has become more necessary than ever to pay attention to your regular markets, talk to drivers, shippers, anyone and everyone to know what is going on. Be prepared for spot rates to take a dip here and there as the congestion loosens. 

Image: Grace Sharkey/FreightWaves

Canada is really trying to upstage the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with supply chain disruptions. Protestors have lived to block another day. The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest crossing into Canada, linking Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. Currently it is closed to Canadian-bound traffic as about 100 vehicles are blocking the road, forcing drivers to detour to the Blue Water Bridge (currently facing a two-hour delay) or drive hundreds of miles to Buffalo, New York, to use the Peace Bridge (with a one-hour delay).

The drivers’ major protests over the vaccine mandate are leaving some trucking CEOs saying this blockade has created additional issues, raised costs and been a pain to deal with. Despite that, many aren’t worried about the effect on their bottom line. 

Seeing as how these protests aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, if you have a shipper that can hold off a week or so on cross-border shipments, strongly encourage the postponement. Otherwise be prepared for a fair amount of out-of-route mile charges. 

TRAC Thursday

SONAR TRAC Market Dashboard Philadelphia to Indianapolis

The City of Brotherly Love knows its worth and has no problem asking for it. The TRAC rate for Philadelphia to Indianapolis comes in at $3.30, the highest in at least six months, if not in years. Any historic data you might have might not be reliable for this lane as rates on the lane will continue to increase for the foreseeable future, despite some capacity loosening. Capacity is loosening in Indianapolis, but with tender lead times averaging three days in both markets and increasing, ship it early to protect yourself and your customer. 

How’d the lemonade stand do?


Instead of selling lemonade, we’re looking at those good ol’ rail cars. Turns out rail ended 2021 on a high. FreightCar America is expecting the favorable market conditions for railcar manufacturing to be the thing that guides the company’s earnings to the black. FreightCar was forced to move all production lines of railcars to Mexico in 2019 and 2020, making 2022 the first year of zero restructuring costs affecting the balance sheet. Official Q4 earnings will come out toward the end of March, but given the anticipated success in 2022, I’m sure those 2021 earnings will take a back seat to 2022. 

While FreightCar America might be making some big strides in 2022, Hub Group came out swinging for Q4, per usual. Net income for Q4 hit a quarterly record for Hub Group at $84.3 million ($2.48 diluted earnings per share). Revenue hit $1.3 billion. CEO Dave Yager cited “exceptionally strong freight demand” as the leading factor for the success. Intermodal revenue was $702 million, logistics brought in $224 million, and the brokerages contributed $268 million, mostly due to the acquisition of Choptank Transport in October. 

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Mary O'Connell

Former pricing analyst, supply chain planner, and broker/dispatcher turned creator of the newsletter and podcast Check Call. Which gives insights into the world around 3PLs and Freight brokers. She will talk your ear off about anything and everything if you let her. Expertise in operations, LTL pricing and procurement, flatbed operations, dry van, tracking and tracing, reality tv shows and how to turn a stranger into your new best friend.