A new year, but shippers struggling with the same West Coast challenges

Stacked containers

Despite the calendar reflecting an entirely new year, so far there is little indication that 2021 will welcome any type of relief for the industry, at least not in the near future. The US West Coast port situation continues to raise new challenges and most likely, stress levels as shippers scramble to secure space and clear containers while depots sort through backlogs and vessels remain at anchor.

Terminals are experiencing varying levels of berth congestion, with approximately 14 vessels at anchor during the week and increasing to as many as 25 over the weekend when labor allocations are restricted.  

Across all ocean lines, vessels are delayed/slowed before arrival and during discharge operations in LA. Extra loaders, full vessels, massive congestion, labor shortages (due to COVID-19) and productivity issues are all contributing factors.  

As it relates to import cycles, DCs are very full & import pickups are seeing significant delays. In turn, this is greatly impacting chassis supply and terminal yard congestion.  It is our understanding that DCs in LA are operating at storage and labor capacity (with social distancing restrictions), but customers are regularly backlogged in picking up imports and then de-vanning them and returning empties. This has increased dwell time at the terminals from the previous 3.5 days to 6 days.

Additionally, street turns have increased from 6.1 days to 8.3 days across all lines and as such, terminals are clogged with imports and draining chassis supply causing shortages.

Customers should book appointments in advance to ensure availability – same day appointments may only be provided during later hours. We recommend that customers plan accordingly and not wait until the last free day of storage; to assist with this, ITS and YTI have systems in place which accept appointment requests prior to vessel arrival which then email the requestor an appointment once the unit is available. Often times, there may be unused appointments at each terminal because the slots aren’t booked, or the requestor is a no-show. 

It should come as no surprise that accepting empty returns is a top priority to create chassis.  Therefore, customers should refer their truckers to EQC for support getting dual transactions if unavailable through on-line appointments.  Note that ITS doesn't require appointments for empty returns and Trapac doesn't require them for dual transactions, however, terminals have had to completely restrict empty receiving from time to time when the inventory levels are too high. 

aerial truck yard with semis parked and leaving

This leads us into the specifics of the chassis situation: chassis availability is severely short. Import devans and empty returns are highly critical to maintaining terminal fluidity. Terminals need chassis returned immediately; this is imperative as import volumes are growing and street dwell times are growing. Chassis are an industry-wide pool/supply in SoCal, and there are no plans for a significant injection of chassis into the market in the short term. Customers should look to devan and reuse chassis where available.   

As for the labor situation at the LA ports, yard & vessel gangs are regularly being shorted due to high demand and short supply. Terminal congestion and use of casual (less experienced) labor is having a negative impact on productivity and container flows. Please note the following key updates: 

  • Up until 10/1, vessel gangs have been sufficient but starting 10/1 gangs are now being shorted by PMA due to too much demand and not enough supply. This is a major development as more vessels will go to anchor awaiting berths. 
  • Labor shortfall is approximately 1000 longshore workers per day (equivalent of 20-30 vessel gangs). Similar labor shortages are seen in Oakland (Short 5% vs. 2019) and Tacoma (Short 8% vs. 2019).
  • There is also a shortage of skilled labor operating cranes and top picks in the yard.  
  • For hostler and other clerical/unskilled jobs in the yard, the hiring hall is having to go to casual labor to fill the jobs, which can mean less experience and longer processing times. 
  • As a result of these labor issues, terminals are becoming less productive at a time when volumes remain at their highest.
  • New labor is being onboarded and "fast track" trained to supplement equipment operators. 

 

And finally, this brings us to the rail situation. Terminals are being shorted railcars, and rail dwell is approaching 9 days at YTI and ITS. CSVC, Rail Ops, and Port Ops need support and as such have had to restrict inquiries on departures as schedules are uncertain and request volume is insurmountable. This situation is evolving and we will continue to share updates as they become available.

In the meantime, please reach out to your local BDP representative with any questions or concerns.