From the standpoint of truck turn time, recovery from the 2014 port meltdown in southern California is certainly under way, but it's slow.
For the past three months, I've refrained from issuing turn time updates. There's no question that turn time has been miserable, breaking below 30 on the 100-point scale of the METRIS Turn Time Performance Index, with nearly 40% of truck visits taking over 2 hours in November. As a point of reference, back in 2011, 15% of visits were over 2 hours. I called that the Exception Rate. Two hours ceased to be a threshold of exceptionalism more than a year ago.
But to place this in context, we're talking in hours. Turn time was eclipsed as an issue by (a) backlogs that delayed containers by days and even weeks, throwing off scheduling of not just goods deliveries but also empty-container returns and chassis, even trains — the entire freight system, and (b) a catastrophic drop in traffic, that will penalize not just truckers but the entire port community well into the future.
The troubles were attributable to several factors, in particular recovering post-recession trade volume, mega-vessels, chassis and severe labor problems. Much of this had been brewing over a period of time. Trade volume was swelling gradually; the ports' operational elasticity was effectively decreasing: vessel size had grown over decades, deluging terminals with bursts of volume that triggered more and more frequent episodes of overwhelming congestion; and the chassis timebomb had been counting down for two years.
Only the labor problem was new to 2014. Surfacing just after turn time performance had already hit a low in September, its timing was devastating. In November the METRIS Index bottomed out at 28 (Figure 1).
So after the PMA-ILWU agreement was struck on February 20, it was heartening to see an immediate and substantial improvement in turn time. February saw the best month-to-month gain in the past year.
That may have created some inflated expectations. I for one was eagerly anticipating even better March numbers. They might indicate a strong bounce back to productivity. And on the lighter side, they'd have been the definitive counterpoint to the ILWU's contention that they'd never slowed anything down.
But turn time worsened slightly in March. Within the margin of statistical uncertainty it was on par with February. So what do we conclude?
There's still a lot of turbidity in the numbers. Due to the convergence of numerous positive and negative forces, it's impossible to trace cause and effect. It will take a little more time for the regular dynamic rhythm to be re-established, and trends to become clear. Turn time is still abysmal, scoring 33 on the METRIS Performance Index in March. Recovery of the ports' health remains the bigger issue. I don't doubt for a moment that it will bounce back. The question is how quickly, and whether that pace, fast or slow, will have other ramifications.
“LA, Long Beach drayage turn times 'substantially' improving, analysis shows.” Journal of Commerce, 2015 04 14
The METRIS data archive, on which this article is based, was possible due to the cooperation and patronage of leading drayage carriers who have been our partners over the past 8 years: Ability/Tri-Modal, California Intermodal Associates, Dependable Highway Express, Fox Transportation, G&D Transportation, Golden State Express, Harbor Division Inc, LA Grain, Port Logistics Group, Price Transfer, Progressive Transportation Services, Southern Counties Express, TK Transport, TTSI and Yamko Truck Lines.