Port Congestion: A Look At The Data

Port Congestion: A Look At The Data

We're diving into port visibility—looking at the challenges and the goals and considering the data that we've gathered. By tracking data across various port locations, we can understand how ports and carriers are performing despite the challenges they are experiencing. We can see who is performing well, who is struggling, and how we can use this type of data to improve visibility. Organizations like DCSA are trying to bring a collective voice to the industry but with little buy in to date port visibility still remains a black box. Reliable and standardized data will be a key to helping open the box.  

The reason for the challenges

It is a mammoth undertaking for port ecosystems to achieve a level of visibility that fosters efficiency. It involves bringing every type of partner onto the same page—ocean carriers, drayage companies, terminal operators, customs brokers, etc. With the many moving parts in port operations, each company has its own internal system, designed and adopted independently. This has led to the situation supply chain partners find themselves in now—there is a wide range of the level of technology adopted by ports and partners, and their solutions do not work completely hand-in-hand.

Defining reliable visibility

Without a way to standardize the process, some ports are advancing visibility faster than others, and the data we have on these ports reveals insight into the key components driving visibility. Before measuring the data, we had to start by identifying key performance indicators.

The goal of visibility is to provide partners with a more complete picture of the supply chain and the factors that influence it. This allows groups to respond faster to disruptions, make more informed decisions, pass visibility on to their customers, and plan better for the future.

Tracking reported event milestones is a large part of what goes into visibility (milestones such as "gate out" or "gate in" for containers, "loaded," and "vessel arrived" or "vessel departed," to name a few). Some carriers tend to report a large number of milestones while others report few, leaving shippers and forwarders more or less in the dark on the status of the shipments.

Efficiency through visibility

From the standpoint of the port, better visibility leads to greater efficiency. The ecosystem of the port would be able to adapt quickly to changing situations, and this efficiency is perhaps most apparent by a shorter time spent in port. These ports with greater throughput can accommodate more vessels in a given amount of time, making the time spent in port an important indicator of the port's visibility progress.

The graphs below show over four months from March 1 to July 1 (2021), the total number of individual measured milestones "Discharged from the vessel" to "Gate out.” The first graph represents Vizion's measure of the average time that carriers spend in port for various locations. The next graph shows the same measurements, organized by carrier and then location.

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Time Spent Per Carrier Per Port.png
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We see a wide range in the average time spent in various ports, even when looking at the data broken down by carrier. Some of the busiest ports—Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle, and Tacoma, for example—have the longest times spent in port, yet there are also outliers—Miami and Rogers—which are not the busiest but still have long times. Among the locations with the shortest time spent in port are Oakland, Charleston, and San Antonio. Oakland might be the most surprising to find on this list; even though it is smaller, it has experienced notable port congestion in recent months.

Visibility and port congestion

What are we then to make of port congestion? Many of the congestion issues have come from the effects of COVID-19—high import volumes in particular. Setting aside these other factors, port congestion through the lens of visibility is an indication of low efficiency, a struggling ability to orchestrate operations around disruptions and fluctuations. To get carriers in and out, port ecosystems need the valuable information provided by visibility.

The pandemic brought to light weaknesses in visibility that need addressing, and there are groups stepping up to this challenge. The Port of Los Angeles is aiming toward improvements, most recently announcing a new tool, The Signal, to benefit any supply chain partner in the port with better transparency. For freight forwarders and BCOs, VIZION brings APIs and data processing technology to ocean freight visibility. There is growing awareness of the benefits of these types of tools and technologies, and as more partners prioritize visibility, we'll see more efficient port operations as a result.

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