Ag exporters face loss of harbor truckers
Agricultural exporters attending the Agriculture Transportation Coalition conference in San Francisco will hear a warning about losing more harbor truckers who drive their exports to U.S. ports from Ken Kellaway, president of RoadOne Intermodal Logistics.
In an interview with AJOT, Kellaway said he has a national perspective, because RoadOne employs 1,000 drivers at ports and rail ramps around the United States. He is seeing drayage drivers for agricultural exporters being discouraged from staying in the business due to a number of problems that urgently need to be addressed:
• Increased federal regulation is forcing harbor truckers to strictly adhere to overweight truckload requirements or face fines and insurance hikes. Agricultural exports often contain high density and heavy truckloads.
• Growing congestion at ports is making pick-ups and deliveries slower and more costly for drivers at ports around the country resulting in a rise from an average of one hour for a container pick-up or delivery to 3 - 6 hours in 2015.
• Drivers are demanding better pay and should be compensated for added costs.
• The arrival of mega-container ships and dispersal of container loads from one carrier to an alliance of carriers creates “peaks and valleys” of container flows and dispersals of exports and imports to multiple locations that slow down pick-ups and deliveries.
• Restrictions on free time and consequent imposition of late fees or demurrage charges by U.S. terminal operators add to driver costs, “The free time that was once allowed at terminals is now being reduced to make more money. The result is that when you do not pick up your cargo on time, you are penalized by demurrage charges.” Truckers often do not get relief from these charges even if they cannot pick up loads due to congestion.
• The availability of chassis (since ocean carriers no longer provide them) continues to be a problem for drivers. Maintenance costs are rising and off-site pools add to delays. However, the pooling programs for chassis at the ports of Norfolk, Los Angeles and Long Beach have been an improvement.
• The move by shippers to shift cargoes from the West Coast ports to East Coast ports after the recent West Coast labor slow down has resulted in new congestion and delays at a number of East Coast ports because of a shortage of drivers. The shortage is less of a problem at Southeastern ports such as Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville.
Kellaway says, “The result is that drivers and drayage companies are being more selective about who their customers are and this is resulting in a decreasing number of drivers available to carry agricultural exports.”
Kellaway notes that, “Typically, the profit margin for the driver is 5% and so any added costs such as detention charges, safety citations and delays in pick-ups and deliveries can be devastating. Our drivers are on the battlefield every day and we need more support and respect.”
On a national level, he says, harbor truckers need to be brought more fully into the planning process, so drivers can avoid constantly “reacting to changes.”