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When coordinating the logistics of your supply chain’s shipping solution needs, business owners don’t always consider the importance of their products’ last few legs of the journey, known as drayage.

Dray industry services are essential for transporting goods over short distances, usually between destinations in a metropolitan area. Often, drayage services get goods from the port to their final destination in a warehouse or consumer’s store.

Drayage is crucial to the intermodal freight transport industry’s logistical shipping process. Essentially, drayage is what brings the products manufactured by the best companies directly into the hands of their customers. Making drayage a priority in your logistical shipping chain can help ensure that your products reach their destination promptly and effectively.

The History of the Drayage Industry

The term drayage comes from a sideless, horse-drawn cart that was a popular method of moving goods from one point to another from the 16th to 19th centuries.

As commerce became more widespread in Europe, especially with the rise of merchant shipping companies bringing goods from overseas, the need for quick and simple transportation and storage of those goods from ports became essential to importing and exporting businesses.

In its simplest form, drayage refers to goods transported over a short distance, ultimately ending up in the hands of the consumer. In modern terms, it usually refers to transporting goods from a seaport or airport to the next destination, such as the customer, or temporary storage like warehouses and logistics service parks.

Dray refers to the cart, which means “to haul” or “to draw.” It’s derived from similar-sounding German, Dutch, and Old English words. While this method of transportation is considered antiquated for moving goods, supplies, and resources, it is still used in some areas for recreational, logging, farming, and other niche shipping service types.

Dray horses, also known as draft horses, are famous for their height, muscular mass, and strength. Some of the more well-known breeds of dray horses include Clydesdales, Shires, Irish Drafts, Comtois, Dutch Drafts, and Friesians. Today, traditional dray horse breeds are employed to cart passengers around cities or as mascots for breweries.

While dray horses have been replaced by modern machinery in most areas of the world, they are still used to plow, cart goods, and move supplies on many farms in undeveloped regions. They are also favored for farming purposes by groups who purposely reject modern technology, such as the Mennonites and the Amish.

Historically, drivers of drays were known as “wagoners” or “muleskinners.” Today, they’re called either “draymen” or “drayage drivers.” Draymen typically do not drive for several days. Instead, they can usually complete their work in a single day, offering a significant benefit for intermodal shipping. Sometimes, they can make multiple trips from one port to the next destination in the shipping chain.

The Role of the Drayage Industry in Intermodal Shipping

Drayage is essential for getting a manufacturer or distributor’s products into the hands of the consumers. The logistics process of drayage includes getting the goods in a shipping container from a port to their next destination, including bringing the container to a rail transport yard for further shipment or delivering a container over a short metropolitan distance via truck.

Besides the truck, the most crucial piece of equipment in the dray industry is the chassis hooked up to the vehicle. Motor carriers use it to transport the container on the road network, also known as a container flatbed trailer or container chassis.

The availability of these trailers is integral to the proper operation of a drayage company. But, with the rising influx of containers from overseas, there is often a shortage of drivers to get these chassis from one point to another.

Companies find themselves scrambling to get their trailers back to an ocean port, inland port, rail hub, or another location to pick up a container for later delivery to more than one location.

While companies typically keep container trailers away from shipping terminals like marine container terminals, and rail yards in adjacent sites, securing enough land to park and store the necessary trailers for the incoming freight loads is one of the most common challenges.

A drayage company employs two loading methods: drop-and-picks and live unloads.

  • Drop-and-picks are when a drayage driver drops off the container of goods at a location, such as a warehouse, and picks it up later for further transportation.
  • Live unloads are when the driver is physically present at the dock and waits until the container is unloaded onto the trailer.

The typical distance for most intermodal carrier services is 75 miles from the starting port to the destination port or location. This relatively short distance allows drayage drivers to make several trips to and from the port, depending on traffic and other factors.

Because there is a shortage of drayage drivers, drayage companies need to limit the average number of driver hours per shipment. The more containers a drayage driver can pick up in a day or a week, the more profitable their total driver-hours become. In turn, the drayage firm employing them can turn more profits and get goods to their final destinations more efficiently.


Classifications of Intermodal Drayage

There are six classifications of drayage models in intermodal shipping. These include:

  • Pier drayage
  • Door-to-door drayage
  • Expedited drayage
  • Inter-carrier drayage
  • Intra-carrier drayage
  • Shuttle drayage

Pier Drayage

Pier drayage is usually, but not always used in exporting services. Companies typically use the pier drayage method to bring an export container or similar intermodal unit from a rail yard or manufacturing site to a pier or dock at an intermodal port.

Occasionally, an intermodal container can be employed in what the industry refers to as a “street turn;” when an imported container is emptied, then filled up again with goods to be exported using pier dray services.

Door-to-Door Drayage

Door-to-door drayage is the method employed to transport containers of goods from the manufacturer to the customer using the roadways or railways. These containers are delivered directly to the customer with no mid-point stops. Consequently, goods delivered through door-to-door drayage do not get stored in a warehouse.

Expedited Drayage

Expedited drayage refers to drayage services that are used for time-sensitive shipments. The containers are typically brought directly from the intermodal port to the customer via dray truck. Like with door-to-door drayage, goods transported using this drayage model do not get stored in a warehouse.

Additionally, such shipments usually are not transported using the railway system, as shipping by road over typical drayage distances is faster than by rail.

Inter-Carrier Drayage

Inter-carrier container drayage services refer to the use of dray trucks and railway transportation to move containers from one point to the next, using collaboration between multiple carriers to get the container to its final destination.

This marine port & rail drayage model requires communication and planning between carriers and is a standard part of the drayage process. Many of the other classifications of drayage services are similarly classified as inter-carrier.

Intra-Carrier Drayage

Intra-carrier dray services are used when containers are transported between different locations using either railways or roadways, but the same carrier owns these modes of transportation. The logistics process of this method is much more streamlined because they are managed within the same company.

Shuttle Drayage

Shuttle drayage is primarily used when ports or rail terminals are experiencing overcrowding. Under the shuttle drayage model, goods containers are stored at alternative locations, such as parking lots or container yard storage facilities, to help keep the terminals and storage areas at ports and railyards from becoming congested. Shuttle drayage primarily exists to help alleviate the costs of port congestion.

Challenges for Drayage Services and How Companies Must Adjust

When accounting for the total distance from manufacturer or distributor to the customer, about 95% of worldwide manufactured goods end up in container drayage during their transport time. The United States is the world’s largest importer of goods, and national drayage services are seeing the effects of the increase in imports over recent years.

With the expansion project of the Panama Canal finally complete, the largest shipping ports in North America are seeing an increase in the size and capacity of ships that can reach ports on either coast. Consequently, many shipping ports have had to expand their territory, terminals, and equipment to accommodate these much larger ships.
Examples include the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach in Southern California, which broke a cargo record in 2021.

Many ports have also had to widen or deepen their channels or expand their marine container terminals. There are several plans to continue this process so that coastal international shipping ports can accommodate these jumbo ships.

Terminals at these ports, as a result, have become more congested, and the backlog of dray drivers waiting to pick up their containers can be quite long. While many ports and railways have been able to purchase land nearby for storage of drayage chassis, sometimes that land is not enough for all the truck trailers required by drayage companies. The expansion of port territory continues to be a challenge across the country.

In recent years, technological measures have been helping mitigate the backlog of drivers, such as using mobile apps to speed up the check-in and check-out processes at terminals, including gate receipts and billing data. Automated gate systems at marine ports also speed up the loading process, while railyards utilize intelligent inventory cranes to stack containers to save space.

Many manufacturers and distributors are encouraged to establish guaranteed container counts throughout a more extended contract with a carrier company. This measure allows the carrier to properly plan and allocate the amount of equipment needed for container drayage.

Likewise, carriers who own their equipment are generally more reliable than carriers that need to use equipment collaborations with other carriers. The more equipment handled in-house with a carrier means that you are dealing with one entity instead of several. This means that intra-carrier drayage services are usually the most efficient way of getting your goods to your customers.

Drayage Costs

Various cost factors are included in drayage services, and some of these costs have increased over the last few years. Depending on the size and weight of your cargo, you can expect drayage service costs to fluctuate according to distance, drayage classification, and equipment tiers.

Equipment costs include the cost of the chassis or trailer and the trucks used to move these from the starting point to the next destination port. Most drayage companies include a pick-up and delivery fee, which may fluctuate based on the destination of the containers. The classification of your drayage service may also affect your rate quote.

The method of transportation and the number of carriers involved will impact the drayage rate. For instance, intra-carrier drayage exclusively relying on trucks will usually be less expensive than multi-carrier journeys across road and rail.

The size and weight of your cargo containers will also impact the cost and equipment utilized for drayage. For instance, most goods in North America are transported using three equipment types: 20-foot, 20-foot with triaxle, and 40-foot.

The fastest and cheapest drayage transportation option is a standard 20-foot container under the 38,500-lb. weight limit, which includes the truck and trailer.

Triaxle 20-foot trailers are typically employed to transport overweight containers. The purpose of the third axle is to help distribute the weight more evenly. However, these trailers are more expensive than the standard 20-foot chassis.

The 40-foot container is the largest container size available for motor carrier services and can hold up to 45,500 lbs. of goods, more than any other type. The primary drawback is the cost; this equipment type is the most expensive due to the size of the trailer and the extra fuel needed to pull the weight.

The cost of a container trailer is included in the drayage service costs and paid per day. Additional charges include the bill of lading or the usage of refrigerated containers for perishable goods.

How 3PLs Help Make Drayage Services Easier

Drayage is an essential part of shipping and distribution services across the globe. It is rare for transported goods not to spend at least some of their time in drayage, and it’s important to factor this into your shipping expenses from the beginning.

Using a third-party logistics (3PL) provider to help with your transportation planning will help make managing drayage services significantly easier. 3PL companies usually already have established networks and relationships, such as with trucking companies and carriers, to help you expedite the process and ensure you receive the best prices for your cargo transportation services.

The objective of a 3PL company is to ensure your goods are treated with care while they are transported to their final destination. They also verify that your shipments get to where they need to be quickly, efficiently, and with maximum cost-effectiveness.
Drayage is an essential piece of your cargo’s journey, and 3PLs contract with the best carriers to ensure your shipping process is as smooth as possible.

Contact Asiana USA Today for Reliable Drayage Services

Navigating drayage services can be a complex and frustrating endeavor on your own. At Asiana USA, we aim to make the process as straightforward as possible. We partner with the most reliable short- and long-distance movers to ensure the reliability of your supply chain and help your goods get to their destination. Get started today; contact us at (323) 250-9407.

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