The Port Drayage Driver Shortage Fact-Check: Top Causes Explored

Posted by Port City Logistics on Feb 3, 2022 11:13:36 AM

It’s a windy morning at the docks. A shipping manager can practically feel the coastal breeze whipping around them when a chassis tracking notification dings to say that the freight has deboarded. Yet just as fast as the refreshment of the sea breeze hits, a chilliness sets in: there’s no one to dray the freight. 

Shippers and freight forwarders across the continent face shortages in labor and equipment to fuel the supply chain. The Journal of Commerce describes that “Regardless of the region they serve, trucking companies in the US Midwest, South Central, and Southeast are also worried about chassis supplies when ocean boxes are railed inland. Motor carriers [said] that chassis supply is so tight, they are paying to rent bare chassis over the weekend[s] just to ensure their drayage drivers have access to equipment.”

As “shortage” rolls over as a primary buzzword from 2021, it’s essential to take the time to evaluate the validity and causes of these claims. This article will address 10 the reasons port drayage is experiencing driver shortages.

1. The Shortage Doesn’t Only Affect Port Drayage Services; It’s an Overarching Driver Shortage.

Unfortunately, the labor scarcity affecting port drayage is not limited to driving positions along the coast. The capacity challenge of drayage mirrors what is happening across its national carrier counterparts. In December, Transport Topics reported, “The industry needs 80,000 more drivers. That could be the same or worse next year with those estimates expected to surpass 160,000 by 2030. High demand, a lack of new drivers, and retirements play into the issue.” 

As carriers deal with labor shortages across the board, transportation obstacles such as costly cargo dwell time at the warehouse are even more crucial to overcome. What is drayage trucking’s future amidst this? Time will tell.

2. Fewer Dock Workers Available to Manage Incoming Truck Appointments

The labor shortages don't just apply to drivers but to all areas of the supply chain. In connection to port drayage services, this is seen most at the docks. Fewer dock workers on the clock mean fewer appointments for incoming trucks.

Without reliability in the dock-appointment process, shippers cannot adequately and efficiently prepare with the drivers available. Because dwell time can count toward a driver’s legally available hours on the road, drivers can max out on their drive time just waiting for an appointment. Shippers and brokers are more frequently resorting to drayage appointment tech to improve the timeline of getting their freight moved.

3. Changing Environmental Regulations Affect Trucker Profitability

As sustainability and eco-friendly movements continue to trend at an individual level, local and state governments are making changes to ensure prioritization at a corporate level. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are leading that charge by instituting clean truck fund rate fees (CTF) in 2022, affecting profitability as well. 

Although the CTF rate fees of $10 per TEU  primarily target cargo owners,, the ports will also consider including the fees in contract and spot rates for drivers with non-exempt vehicles. As trucking profitability shrinks, fewer trucks will be willing to work in the California port drayage services market. Some truckers may even consider leaving the industry for good rather than paying the upfront costs for eco-friendly vehicles.

4. COVID-19 Variants Are Also Causing Disruption

At the time of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ebb and flow. New variants create a higher demand for contactless pickup, pushing more products through port drayage as fast as possible. However, this higher supply-demand coincides with a new wave of reasons why drivers cannot work.

Carriers have to deal with drivers in quarantine, either for themselves or to to care for family members who are exposed or actively ill. Will those quarantines be paid? Unlikely. Older drivers may have even more concern for their health risks on the job, providing many with reason to contemplate whether to continue to work in this essential field or not.

5. The Misconception That Drivers Are Getting Paid Enough

As inflation affects consumer goods, adequate pay is a concern for most trying to make ends meet. With the long hours and potential weeks on the road between home visits, are truckers adequately compensated for their work? It depends on who you ask.

Cargo owners and shippers are noticing the financial strain and are offering additional incentives to get drivers involved in port drayage. Transport Dive divulged that Zim, an ocean carrier, “is offering to pay truckers up to $200 for each dry-van or laden container picked up within four days after it is discharged from the ship. To claim the fee, truckers need to bill Zim directly every month.” 

6. Shortages Are Also a Result of Changing Weather Patterns

New and unpredictable weather patterns continue to emerge across the United States in 2022. Typically sunny south-central Texas has been getting winter weather advisories for snow and below freezing weather, and much of the East Coast was left in shambles after ​​being hit by the “Saskatchewan screamer”.

You might be asking, “What is drayage trucking’s correlation to this?” Although the Port of Savannah is in the south, some mid-length or long-haul drays may head as far as Washington D.C. Drayage truck visibility might reveal drivers stuck in Michigan-level winter storms on the east coast. As these unexpected winter storms continue to hit, there may be more recurring regional driver shortages in the Southeast.

7. The Truck Driver Lifestyle Is a Possible Cause

Although many would assume the truck driver lifestyle is a cause for the port drayage driver shortage, drayage drivers are not the stereotypical long-haul drivers who only return a few times a month. Drayage drivers specialize in short hauls that they can complete within a day.

By working in a local region, drayage drivers can maintain familiar spots to eat and rest between loads. Providing drayage drivers the ability to nightly sleep in their beds combats the chronic industry problem of sleep deprivation. Meanwhile, drivers can become expert carriers for dray loads on their familiar routes and get opportunities to see new local places.

8. Limits on Driving Age and Traditional Demographics of Drivers

In the past, truck driver demographics have been very limited. This limitation has revealed a problem with older drivers retiring faster than young drivers can get hired. However, in November 2021, industry authorities lowered the regulated driving age from 21 to 18 years old. By allowing adults entering the workforce to have the opportunity to join trucking apprenticeships immediately, more can consider trucking as a primary career instead of a future backup.

Many trucking companies are not only widening the demographic vertically in age range  but also horizontally by reaching women, minorities, and veterans with job opportunities. Port drayage services are especially appealing to these new and prospective drivers due to the shorter, local shifts.

9. Limited Warehousing Space Means Drayage Drivers Must Usually Travel Farther to Unload Containers

The e-commerce boom of 2020 has seen warehouse vacancy rates continue to hit all-time lows. Locating non-bonded warehouses or customs bonded warehousing is becoming increasingly complicated for shippers. 

Widening dray distance has stretched port drayage services past their initial purpose. Longer warehouse trips tie up more drivers for extended periods, causing drivers to potentially get tied up with one drop in the time it used to take them to do two. Building more warehouses would solve this problem, but the supply chain crunch comes full circle as it delays new-build timelines due to a lack of readily available supplies.

10. Driverless Trucks Counterpoint to Those Worried About Truck Driver Stability

While some may say that driverless trucks are only months away, truck drivers will continue to maintain job security for some time. Although automated trucks are gaining traction and approval in best-case scenarios, the unpredictability of inclement weather, complicated drop-off locations, or condition-based traffic puts them far behind human thinking at the wheel.

Port drayage drivers know it’s more than just evaluating risk management - driving in and out of ports requires unique awareness. Despite the carrier cost savings of a driver’s salary by utilizing driverless trucks, public safety concerns alone will likely require human supervision for some time. What better person to supervise a semi-truck on the move than a truck driver?

Overcome the Shortage in Port Drayage Services With the Right Partner

What is drayage trucking’s role in the supply chain? Experienced oceanic shippers know it’s not just about truck turnaround; it’s about entering a port system marked by visibility and fluidity. Companies aware of the realities and misconceptions of the truck driver and warehouse shortages can proactively address them and efficiently move forward. Get your port logistics questions answered by connecting with Port Logistics today.

Topics: port drayage