Last week, the Biden administration announced that the Port of Los Angeles, the country’s busiest container port, will operate on a 24/7 schedule to clear the backlog of ships jammed in the San Pedro Bay. The move is meant to loosen chokepoints as the US’s beleaguered supply chain limps toward the Christmas season.
The reaction in the industry has been tempered, seeing the move as a welcome first step but unlikely to be transformative. The CEO of one trade group characterized the announcement to CNN as “low-hanging fruit” and a “relatively obvious next step,” but one that would not solve the related problem of driver and equipment shortages in trucking.
The Port of LA won’t be the first in the US to operate a 24-hour schedule and they don’t have to look far for cautionary tales. Savannah’s 24-hour port has some 80,000 containers piling up at its docks, and the Port of Long Beach, right next to the Port of LA, switched to a 24/7 schedule in September. While longshore workers were willing to work a third shift, operating the cranes to pull containers off ships at a faster rate, the Wall Street Journal found that two weeks after the change, no additional truck drivers showed up to move the containers out of the docks.
Drayage trucking is the next link on the supply chain after containers are pulled off a ship, and refers to the short distances the vehicles travel. Pressure on the supply chain is straining the equipment, and drivers are contending with shortages of tires and chassis, the wheeled metal frames that carry containers from the dockyard to railheads or distribution warehouses for their journeys inland.