Record Levels of Imports Cause Drayage Shortage in Southeast

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Record Levels of Imports Cause Drayage Shortage in Southeast

Trucking companies in the US Southeast have warned they are running out of drayage capacity to handle the 12-month surge of imports into the US. The record level demand for trucking has caused both national and regional providers to turn down new business as they are fully booked with core customer business.

Ocean carriers and importers are struggling to secure truck carriers and paying extra to get their import containers pulled from Charleston, Savannah, and Norfolk. Combined imports through the three ports jumped 27 percent between January and May compared with the same five months of 2020, and are up 15 percent compared with the 2019 period, according to PIERS.

Imports in Savannah have surged 31 percent in the first five months compared with a year ago, and 20 percent compared with pre-pandemic 2019. Ben Banks, vice president of drayage provider TCW Inc., said dray capacity in Savannah has been unable to keep pace.

“On the driver side, we essentially have the same number of drivers servicing the ports as we did a few years ago,” says Ben Banks, vice president of drayage provider TWC Inc. “We are very fortunate to have a large book of business with clients we have great relationships with, which leaves us little room to expand to new customers, especially given the fact that current customers’ volumes are up 30 to 40 percent in many cases.”

Bob Everleigh, chief operating officer of Port City Transportation, said its drayage capacity from Norfolk to Jacksonville is booked up weeks in advance, so “shippers would do well to schedule loads as early as possible.”

“It’s ridiculous down here,” Kelly Battle, owner of Georgia-based drayage provider QFS Transportation wrote in an email forwarded to JOC. “I have honestly never seen anything like this, and I have been in the business for 34 years.”

“The high-end, top-tier draymen for the ocean carriers and large importers are booked up until July at this point,” he told JOC.com. “When the smaller carriers start telling me, ‘Hey, we’re booked up right now too,’ then I know it’s getting super tight. And that’s where we are in the Southeast.”

In some cases, drayage rates have more than tripled due to the imbalance between supply and demand. A similar situation occurred at the Port of New York and New Jersey earlier this year when loads were idling for weeks because of rail congestion, prompting carriers, intermediaries, and importers to pay extra for spot drayage to get their cargo off the docks.

The arrival of the 16,022 TEU CMA CGM Marco Polo on the US East Coast may exacerbate the existing supply-demand imbalance, especially as the stops in Savannah and Charleston occurred so close to Memorial Day when ports are closed. The ultra-large container vessel unloaded more than 2,500 TEU of imports in Norfolk and Savannah, respectively, according to preliminary data from PIERS, placing additional pressure to move the burst of boxes.

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