Supply Chain issues

This is another one of my infamous comments that turned into a post. This is in response to this post at The Last Refuge:

As noted, and as previously outlined, the issues with the backlog of the California ports have absolutely nothing to do with rapid unloading of ships and container vessels. The issue is the inability of California truckers to move those containers. The problem is a shortage of CA emission compliant internal transportation trucks to move the containers out of the port and into the U.S. mainland.

Here’s the thing. You may be right that the problem is a lack of trucks, but at this stage, just repealing the laws that are causing the truck shortage isn’t going to fix anything.

At the very beginning, right after the restrictive laws went into effect, there weren’t enough trucks to move the containers out quickly, so the containers start to stack up. Then when a truck shows up, the containers have to be moved around to get to the one the truck is there to haul, which takes time.

Meanwhile more containers stack up. And more. And more.

Until we get where we are: so many containers are stacked everywhere that they don’t have space to work. A truck shows up to pick up a container that’s in the middle of a huge stack and they not only have to take the time to move all the containers that are in the way, they also have to find or make space to put the containers that they need to move…so truckers sit for hours waiting for their cargo to be ready to pick up.

Meanwhile, more ships are being offloaded and added to the huge piles of containers.

So, even if they repealed the laws today and thousands more trucks became available to move cargo, it would still take forever to get the cargo out of the piles and onto the trucks they’re intended for.

What they would need to do to straighten this all out would be immensely expensive and a logistical nightmare, but it’ the only way short of just shutting down the port until the backlog is cleared that they’ll be able to get this fixed:

  1. Repeal the laws restricting trucks and drivers from operating in California
  2. The port or the state needs to contract every truck they can get their hands on.
  3. They need to lease or buy several large staging areas away from the city.
  4. When a truck arrives at the port, load it with the first container available and get it on the road immediately.
  5. The trucks take their loads to a staging area and drop them where their entry is logged and the recipient of the container is notified where to find it.
  6. The truck immediately returns to the port to pick up the next container.

This needs to continue until the backlog is resolved, then the trucks can be released and allowed to return to their normal duties.

Hopefully because the staging areas won’t be so congested (more staging areas, less containers at each) and each will have less traffic than the port itself, trucks can be loaded with their intended cargoes much more quickly and efficiently and the staging areas can be cleared relatively quickly (at least within a couple of months).

It will be slow because enough truck traffic will have to continue to serve the ports to prevent them from just backlogging again, so movement of cargo from the staging areas will still be slow.

Honestly, I’m not sure there are enough trucks and/or drivers available for that plan to even work. This may not be recoverable without flat out shutting down cargo ships into the ports until the backlog is cleared. That would be disastrous…but probably not much more disastrous than what’s already going on.

Any way you cut it, this is going to continue to get worse before it gets better…if it ever does.


3 thoughts on “Supply Chain issues

  1. Good idea, but somewhat incomplete….I wonder if establishing semi-remote staging areas would help, as in, “we know these 35 containers are going to places in Oklahoma so let’s put them on train cars to haul to a staging area in Oklahoma.” Trucks will still be needed for short hauls at each end, but “container time on a truck” will be reduced, increasing the availability of truck chassis (and drivers) for the job.

    But…..: 1) There aren’t any (or very few) spare rail cars because too many are parked on sidings still loaded with containers; 2) Where will there be space adjacent to a railroad that has the equipment and space to become a mini-staging area?; 3) How do the empty containers get back to the port (China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, etc. are short of containers and no containers means stuff still won’t get shipped here); 4) who in government – federal, state or local – is smart (and brave) enough to make this work? It sure ain’t gonna be Petey Buttplug (Beuller? Beuller? Anyone?) ; 5) do we have a rail system adequate for the task, even with more flatbed container cars? I think the answer is “no.” ; 6) are there even enough truck drivers in Oklahoma (or Texas or Ohio or New Hampshire, ad infinitum) to make it work? 7) Why wasn’t something like remote staging areas thought of 10 years ago? (see:#6, above….)

    Face it, we’re completely anally self-sexed on this and it’s only the visible tip of a huge iceberg of national fail. But, it’s what America voted for!!! (or, at least, tolerates…..for the moment)

  2. “Good idea, but somewhat incomplete”

    Not surprising, I’m not a logistics guy. That’s a basic idea, someone more involved in the industry would have to flesh out the details.

    “‘we know these 35 containers are going to places in Oklahoma so let’s put them on train cars to haul to a staging area in Oklahoma.’ Trucks will still be needed for short hauls at each end, but ‘container time on a truck’ will be reduced, increasing the availability of truck chassis (and drivers) for the job.”

    Good point. I didn’t mention trains because of the issue you raised later on…lack of rolling stock. There’s a reason that 70% of the freight haulage in the US is done by truck. Plus using rail restricts your staging areas to rail facilities. All trucks need is a couple of cranes in a big empty lot near a road.

    The point about empty containers getting back I hadn’t considered. That would need to be addressed for sure.

    I agree that no one in the current government will be willing or able to do something on the scale required. If for no other reason, government employees’ primary purpose in life is to ensure their continued employment. Risk taking and bold plans aren’t exactly their forte. They tend to follow regulations to the letter. Even stupid ones.

    Not only do we not have enough drivers already, but the imminent Vax mandates are going to take even more out of play. As I mentioned, I’m not even sure a plan like that would work at this point.

    We may have been able to fix this a year ago…but now that it’s gotten to disaster proportions, it may not be fixable.

    I guess after all the stores are empty and millions in the cities die of starvation, the situation will eventually fix itself.

  3. “I guess after all the stores are empty and millions in the cities die of starvation, the situation will eventually fix itself.”

    Unfortunately, yes. At least the survivors will have all kinds of free goodies in whatever shipping containers they find. (I suspect a good set of long-handled bolt cutters and a high wheel garden cart (a la The Road movie) will be “premium goods”.

    Einstein said (paraphrasing): You can’t solve a problem with the same thought process used to create it.

    Since it was government that created this I’m confident in saying it’s beyond their ability to fix, and highly likely that anything they try to do will only make it worse.

    Sit down, strap in and hang on, this ride’s gonna get interesting…….

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