Revolutionizing Drayage: How Technology is Streamlining Port Transport Operations

Golden State Logistics

Which area of freight transportation desperately needs a technological overhaul? For many, that answer might be “revolutionizing drayage.”

Drayage is short-haul trucking, which transports cargo from ports or rail yards to distribution centers or warehouses. Dispatchers alert truck drivers via phone calls or text messages when cargo might be ready for delivery.

Successful drayage operations involve having the necessary equipment, such as container chassis and heavy-duty trucks. They also include using trained truck drivers who are familiar with local traffic patterns and regulations that could apply to them.

The drayage industry has long relied on manually-based systems, such as spreadsheets and phone calls between service providers and truck drivers, for doing business. However, the industry is starting to realize, particularly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, that drayage operations should be modernized to bring about more efficient and streamlined operations.

This is where technology comes in. As businesses saw during the pandemic the inefficiencies of the long-established way of handling port drayage, they began to realize that they needed to ratchet up their investments in technology, with the hopes that technology could revolutionize drayage. Companies such as Golden State Logistics (GSL) have been looking at adopting a multifaceted, technology-forward approach to drayage that emphasizes efficiency, real-time communication, environmental responsibility, and data security.

Current Technological Landscape in Drayage Operations

Despite its critical role within the supply chain, the drayage industry has been slow in adopting technology compared with other industries.

Problems can arise with a slower integration of drayage technology. For instance, while each of the 12 terminals at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have websites where a business can make an appointment for a truck pickup or drop-off, that appointment process isn’t consolidated into a single system. Better scheduling and more integrated communication between dispatchers and drivers could have helped prevent or at least reduced the long queues of trucks waiting outside major U.S. ports during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those trucks waited in line because they were seeking to avoid being charged with overdue fees for returning empty containers.

There are other challenges to the drayage industry and port drayage. Drivers might encounter dead runs — when a driver goes a long distance to pick up or drop off a container, but the driver doesn’t have any cargo to bring back on the return trip. This can waste fuel and is inefficient for the driver’s time. Meanwhile, carriers might take longer than anticipated to release an empty container, which results in a trucking company waiting to hear when that container can be picked up. That process usually involves emailing, faxing, or using the phone.

Truck drivers might also have little say about where they can pick up empty containers, which can result in traveling longer distances to pick up a container at a depot. The drayage industry overall suffers from a lack of access to real-time data that enables customers to know the status of where containers are.

Technology providers are now scratching the surface and addressing these concerns to make drayage operations and port drayage more efficient. Making operations more efficient can also lead to developing more environmentally friendly practices since there is a push to lower truck idling. It can also help businesses, especially those operating in California, comply with stricter emissions regulations.

Key Areas Where Technology is Making an Impact

Utilizing technology not only makes workflow systems more efficient but also helps reduce congestion and promotes beneficial environmental impacts. It could help the industry meet existing and proposed regulations, such as the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) Advanced Clean Fleets rule, which calls for drayage fleets to meet reporting requirements for adding new, environmentally friendly internal combustion engine vehicles.

CARB’s rule calls for drayage trucks to start transitioning to zero-emission technology beginning in 2024, with full implementation by 2035. Drayage trucks operating at a California seaport or an intermodal rail yard must also be registered with CARB.

The industry could even consider how advanced technologies, such as those incorporating artificial intelligence, could revolutionize drayage. This might include building e-fleet infrastructure to support e-fleets for surface transportation and warehouses.

Technological Innovations Driving Change in Drayage

Partners across the supply chain have been carving out opportunities to make drayage movements more efficient. For instance, Class I railroad Norfolk Southern (NS)  has formed a venture with DrayNow, which has a mobile app that enables real-time shipment tracking. The app connects small fleet owner-operators with brokers needing first- and last-mile drayage service. The app functions similarly to the way that customers find Uber drivers. The NS-DrayNow partnership aims to improve the drayage experience for truckers and customers.

Meanwhile, technological companies, such as tech provider Trakking, have been working to create digital platforms that help streamline the process of managing the transport of empty containers. Trakking says that it semi-automates the process of requesting empty containers, and users can access real-time data on empty container inventories at off-docks and ports.

Still, other technological tools that could benefit the drayage industry are those steeped in GPS tracking and automated scheduling systems. Utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) in fleet management and artificial intelligence (AI) for route optimization are other areas that could be explored.

IoT in fleet management occurs when IoT-enabled devices can collect, store, and analyze massive amounts of data. These devices can help businesses make data-driven and informed decisions about operations. IoT also enables better management and near real-time visibility into freight vehicles. When AI for route optimization is used in tandem with fleet utilization, more efficient operations, lower costs, and environmental benefits can result.

The Future of Drayage: Technological Advancements on the Horizon

The way of doing business in the drayage industry could look dramatically different — in a good way — if technologies are implemented to make drayage operations more efficient. Moreover, emerging technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, blockchain for supply chain transparency, and advanced data analytics, could streamline drayage operations, resulting in lower fuel costs, increased environmental benefits, and a more productive workforce.

At GSL, we’re adopting an innovative approach that marries efficiency with environmental responsibility. Each power unit of our fleet is equipped with telematics that provide real-time information, giving the customer instant access to proof-of-delivery documents. Our customers can also integrate their interface system with our EDI or API, and they can better navigate the dozen terminals and chassis providers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with our interface. These are just some of the technological tools customers can use at GSL.

Embracing a Technology-Forward Approach to Revolutionize Drayage with GSL

Port drayage can benefit immensely from the technological tools emerging to revolutionize drayage and take operations to the next level.

At GSL, we’re committed to pioneering technology in drayage so businesses can more efficiently manage their first-mile operations.  

Join us on this journey as the drayage industry grows more sophisticated in making operations more efficient. Contact us to learn how your business can partner with GSL to realize state-of-the-art drayage solutions.

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