The chassis shortage is a complex problem for intermodal freight transport and the industries that depend on it.
It’s a protracted problem — it’s not new, and there’s not an easy fix to resolve it. While intermodal containers are still moving into and out of ports, the process is taking longer. That creates bottlenecks in the supply chain, leading to all kinds of additional difficulties for a wide range of businesses.
While we can’t solve this serious logistical problem, we can learn more about it. Let’s explore the chassis shortage and some key issues it has led to.
What is the Truck Chassis Shortage?
Tractor-trailers most commonly consist of two components. The tractor unit or cab contains the engine, as well as space for the driver to operate the vehicle. The trailer holds the cargo.
In intermodal freight transport, trucks have three components. The cab serves a similar function. It also houses the driver, vehicle controls, and engine.
Intermodal trucks don’t use that same type of trailer unit, however. Instead, a container truck utilizes a chassis to secure and transport an intermodal container (also called a shipping container). These chassis are also called trucking trailers.
Without a chassis, it’s impossible to transport shipping containers over the road. It doesn’t matter if a container’s destination is another intermodal facility or a customer locally. All container trucks need chassis to carry them outside of ports and over the road.
Currently, a variety of factors are impacting the availability of chassis. Not only for container truck drivers and the drayage companies they work for, but businesses nationwide as well.
What Caused and Contributed to the Chassis Shortage?
The Wall Street Journal explained a high level of intermodal imports and labor shortages at warehouses and similar businesses are key issues in the shortage. These problems have caused chassis to stay away from ports longer than normal. It’s taking businesses longer to unload containers in general. That means containers sit on top of chassis until they’re emptied of their cargo.
Additional rules introduced by shipping companies about returning containers have also forced chassis to hold empty containers for longer than normal. Higher costs for new chassis made in China, labor shortages for chassis repair, and other factors also contribute to the problem.
These issues combine to create delays when a driver is assigned to pick up a chassis, then deliver a shipping container. This process is complex, although normally relatively efficient, under normal circumstances.
Disruptions in other areas of intermodal freight transport have led to a major issue with no single, simple solution. The chassis shortage in the USA will likely continue until the underlying issues are addressed.
How Long is the Chassis Shortage Expected to Last?
The chassis shortage likely isn’t a short-term problem. Transport Dive noted significant issues for ports on both the East and West Coasts.
The Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) highlighted problems at facilities in Chicago. That helps demonstrate delays and problems in the interior of the United States as well.
The shortage will certainly last into 2023, and some projections have it continuing well into 2024. A variety of industry and governmental efforts are active to address the issue. That includes a $20 million federal grant for the Port of Los Angeles.
The funds are committed to building improvements in infrastructure for truck access. The ultimate goal is reducing port congestion, Transport Dive explains.
However, the complex nature of the problem means there isn’t a simple solution. The container chassis shortage will take much more time and effort to fully resolve.
4 Effects of the Chassis Shortage
There are many effects stemming from the chassis shortage, we want to highlight a few that have an especially widespread impact. These issues are impacting our company, our drivers, our customers, and the national economy in general.
1. Bottlenecks in the Supply Chain
It’s not fair to place all of the blame on the chassis shortage. Delays and other issues in the intermodal supply chain led to the shortage. However, the lack of chassis contributes to containers sitting idle for longer periods of time than they have in the past.
Without dependable access to chassis, delays are unavoidable — and sometimes hard to predict — in the supply chain.
2. Slowdowns at Intermodal Ports
With limited chassis availability, ports have more trouble efficiently moving shipping containers. This is related to the broader bottlenecks in the supply chain mentioned above. However, it has an especially significant impact on importers, exporters, and drayage companies.
Businesses with a substantial import and/or export component have to rely on intermodal shipping in many situations. And drayage companies that work at intermodal ports are dedicated to that specialized type of transport. With widespread delays across the intermodal freight market, it’s that much tougher to operate normally and effectively.
Higher Costs for Transport
Shortages of any kind of good or service can quickly drive up the price for them, at least when demand is high.
Despite the ongoing issues with intermodal freight transport, many businesses have to rely on it. There’s simply no other system that can transport such large volumes of freight as successfully and consistently. That’s true even with the delays that have contributed to the chassis shortage — and the shortage itself.
Costs are rising for businesses importing and exporting products, transportation companies, and intermodal facilities alike.
Issues with Inventory and Customer Satisfaction
Reduced certainty for delivery timelines and dates can lead to product shortages. Whether your company’s customer is another business or an end consumer, that means problems with satisfaction. Businesses can plan around this uncertainty, but it ultimately requires additional time, effort, and spending.
Trust Iraheta Bros. for Your Drayage Needs
At Iraheta Bros., our inventory of company-owned chassis helps us work around the chassis shortage. And our experienced staff and strong relationships with the Port of Oakland are vital for providing consistently excellent service. We’ll always keep you informed and updated about timelines and potential issues, helping your company better address the chassis shortage.