President Joe Biden’s simple solution to the complex problem of America’s supply chain snarl is on the fast lane to failure, according to many in the transportation sector.
Biden announced last week that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which account for 40 percent of shipping containers entering the United States, will now operate on a 24/7 schedule to unload containers coming into the country. As part of the deal, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union will work extra shifts.
But analysts and others in the trucking and logistics industry maintain no one should be taking bows for only addressing one piece of the puzzle, according to Commercial Carrier Journal.
“Port throughput is not just taking containers off steamships, but having the capacity in the yard to position those containers, the chassis to put the containers on, the drivers to take the freight from the ports, and capacity in the rail network to facilitate the hoped-for acceleration in port throughput,” said Kenny Vieth, president and senior analyst at Americas Commercial Transportation Research Co.
“While the president’s recognition of the situation is welcome, and will undoubtedly help at the margin, this effort resembles squeezing a balloon: The problem appears likely to be pushed to the next mode with insufficient capacity.”
Siegfried Adam Jr. of the customs house broker Peter Wittwer North America in Largo, Florida, said unloading ships is not the end of the problem, but the beginning.
“Nothing will change if ports operate 24 hours,” he said.
“There are not enough truckers to work three shifts per day nor does the hinterland infrastructure support hundreds of more containers to be unloaded in a 24-hour period. It’s a dumb idea. It solves nothing.”
Pushing more goods into an already-overloaded transportation system by running ports 24/7 creates more problems than it solves, said Rick Mihelic, director of emerging technologies at the North American Council for Freight Efficiency.
“Twenty-four-hour operations at the ports impact all the downstream resources as well, warehouses, trucks, trains, distribution centers, retail outlets, and factories,” Mihelic said.
“Fixing the problem at the port moves it to the next step in the supply chain. Trucking is already operating at capacity so adding more throughput requires them to operate more hours and more efficiently than they currently are able or willing to do.”
Then there is the issue of what to do with the containers that come in and need to go back out, said Leonard Arriola, director of intermodal and drayage services at Dependable Supply Chain Services.
“Extending the hours alone will not alleviate the problem,” Arriola said. “The major roadblock is the inability to return empty containers in a timely manner. I currently have 890 containers out on my own private fleet of chassis and 375 of them have empty containers on them that do not have a return location because one, there’s nowhere to return them; two, return restrictions; and three no [return] appointments are available.”
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Arriola said dock workers cannot be created with the stroke of a White House pen.
“There is also not enough labor to fully man the ports 24/7,” he said. “If there are 9,000 dock workers over two shifts and you add a third shift, that brings you down from 4,500 workers per shift to 3,000 per shift. How is that going to increase productivity?”
“There is an immediate need for more dock workers if even on a temporary basis, however the union may be a hurdle in this as they have a history of nepotism. As for the drivers, they will work around the clock if allowed.”
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