Los Angeles, Long Beach is the largest US port complex with 12 container terminals and whilst operating efficiently in the past, it has more recently been experiencing difficulties. The difficulties are due to a shortage of chassis with which to move loaded containers from one terminal to another and the return of empty containers back to their relevant terminals. More specifically the shortage is in chassis being available for the moving of empty containers as the drayage company responsible for doing that has least priority in chassis allotment.
Although the returning of empty containers may seem like a trivial problem, it does have a significant effect on the efficiency and productivity of the port as a whole as it can cause delays in full containers reaching their respective terminals. This problem had now also become a problem for the Harbor Trucking Association as their members now complain of a significant drop in dual loads. A dual load is when a driver will transport a full container in one direction and then return with an empty container, maximizing efficiency and of course providing the drivers with extra pay. Because of the shortage in chassis and the resultant congestion in the terminals, dual loads have dropped from 80% of driver’s jobs 5 years ago, to 20% today.
There are of course several users of the chassis within the port’s supply chain including BCOs (beneficial cargo owners), carriers and IEPs (intermodal equipment providers) all of whom take priority over the drayage companies responsible for the return of empty containers. Although all parties agree there is a problem and the problem continues to get worse, ideas on how to resolve it are few and far between. It would appear that the problem started when carrier alliances changed without full consideration of the possible problems it could cause.
As would be expected, the problem is most significant and therefore most detrimental, at peak times in cargo receipts and movements. At these times some shipping companies, due to the quantity of full containers they have to ship, refuse to take their allotted numbers of empty containers which of course leaves those unwanted empty containers in the wrong terminal or at least in the wrong place within a terminal. This then results in there not being enough vacant space for full containers and that affects the efficiency of the whole port operations.
It would now appear that the shortage experienced at the port is not due to a shortage in chassis in the Southern California region, which has a total of 65,000 chassis dispersed throughout the region at ports, rail terminals and distribution warehouses but more in the coordination of chassis dispersal. Although daily monitoring of the chassis is done, it has been suggested that a more active monitoring should be undertaken as estimates suggest that as many as 6,000 chassis are used to hold containers which have been stationary for 60 days or more. It is hoped that by better monitoring, allowing these inactive chassis to be brought back into full use, the port’s shortfall will be met at critical times.