Welcome to the WHAT THE TRUCK?!? newsletter. In this issue, Boston port’s big gains; traffic woes; Amazon faces a new AB; truckers honk for kid; and more.
Shipping up to Boston
Dropkick maritime — With record container volumes flooding the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, it begs the question: What about America’s smaller ports? I grew up around Conley Terminal in South Boston. Conley is a great place to talk to the longshoremen about how the “Lakers and Yankees suck” but when it comes to container volumes, New England’s main terminal hub is lagging far behind the Big Apple and LA on the TEU scoreboard. Bloomberg’s Brendan Murray recently went on a port tour of Conley to get some answers. A right of passage I’ve been on a few times.
By the numbers — Comparing the Port of Boston to Los Angeles/Long Beach and New York/New Jersey is a bit like putting Bishop Sycamore out on the field against Ohio State. NY/NJ handled half a million TEUs in June while the port of Los Angeles had its busiest June ever with 876,430 TEUs. Meanwhile, Conley Terminal saw 17,900 TEUs in June. The narrative may seem like all ports are being swamped but that’s not the case in Boston, where volumes are down from pre-pandemic levels. In fact, Conley’s cargo volumes in June have dropped by more than 11,000 TEUs compared to the same month in 2019.
The Big Dig — The fact is that not only is Boston not trying to be the Asian gateway that New York and Los Angeles are, it physically and logistically can’t be. Boston does not have the rail connectivity required to serve imports in the same way, and it simply isn’t deep enough. Conley Terminal took shape off of Castle Island in 1966 but it’s a terminal built on Boston Harbor and Boston Harbor is built on landfill. Because of that, the port has had to undergo multiple costly dredging projects through the years. In the late ’90s, the infamous Big Dig increased vessel size to 7,000 TEUs. In 2017, another dredging expansion increased depths from 40 feet to 51 feet. Unfortunately, that project won’t be complete until next year.
The plane, the plane! — Conley Terminal not only has the depth of the harbor working against it but also its neighbor, Logan Airport. Due to the location of the terminal, specialized gantry cranes need to be used in order to not interfere with flight patterns. This spring, three new low-profile neo-Panamax cranes began their journey from Shanghai to Boston. According to MassPort, “These new cranes will efficiently service larger container ships holding 12,000-14,000 TEUs.”
’22 and beyond — The Port of Boston still has some growing up to do in order to service modern container ships from Asia. With only two weekly calls, it has to prove it can be a reliable and viable call for high-volume shippers and carriers. As MassPort Deputy Director Lauren Gleason told Bloomberg, “We know that the allocation is going to increase again and get more bookings through Boston now that we can start to handle the larger ships.” Right now, they seem to be charting the right course in that direction. As Woody Guthrie once wrote and the Dropkicks sang, “I’m shipping off (to Boston) to find my wooden leg” — or at least some capacity.
Traffic is wicked bad
The other problem in Boston — Pre-pandemic, my 22-mile trip from the South Shore to East Boston could easily take 90 minutes each way on a good day. Last year, commuters in Boston saw a brief reprieve from snarled traffic and excessive delays. Unfortunately, despite the prominence of work-from-home options, traffic is now only 5% below 2019 levels, according to MassDOT. What’s driving it? Some of the same issues at the forefront of this freight-related congestion.
“In the past year, there’s been like a sixfold increase in demand for trucks, compared to the previous year.” — Anna Nagurney, UMass transportation and logistics expert, told FOX25
Buy it now — Excessive retail buying and “revenge spending” is putting more trucks on the road at all hours. To fulfill those final-mile and same-day shipping needs, Amazon has opened 17 new facilities across the commonwealth. That means even more blue delivery vans on the road. Commuters, with flexible schedules, are also taking to the highway at what would traditionally be off-hours, adding to the congestion. Speaking of commuters, FOX25 reports, “Another factor contributing to increased traffic in the state is more people opting to use their own cars instead of taking mass transit, like the commuter rail.”
If you build it, he will come — So let’s say all goes well at Conley Terminal and much larger vessels do call the port. What does the city have planned to alleviate traffic in an already gridlocked area like Southie? Will the bipartisan infrastructure bill get the job done? CBS Boston reports, “According to Sen. Ed Markey’s office, the state would see about $4.2 billion for road improvements, $1.1 billion for bridge replacement and repairs, and $2.5 billion for public transit like the MBTA.” How they could be used to help truck and port traffic remains to be seen.
California keeps Amazon in crosshairs
AB got back — You may have heard of AB5 but have you heard the one about its sister legislation, AB 701? In an interview with FreightWaves, Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retail Association, said an employee must be given a “written description of all the work quotas to which the worker will be subject, as well as what the consequences will be if the worker fails to meet those quotas.” FreightWaves’ John Kingston reports, “Another key rule can be invoked: that employees can’t be expected to meet quotas whose demands would prevent the workers from being able to comply not just with occupational safety rules in general but with permitted rest and meal breaks.” Opponents say that the current laws in California already deal with issues mentioned in the proposed legislation. This is a dense one so get up to date on the full report here.
Tooting your own horn
Just blow it — Heather Downing took to TikTok last week to say that truckers blew it when her daughter stood in front of her driveway asking them to blow their horns. In the video, Downing’s daughter can be seen giving passing trucks the universal pull-the-horn sign but none complied. One TikToker wrote, “For y’all drivers who did not honk as she was doing the arm pump … y’all are a disgrace. That’s something we drivers look forward to out here.” CDLife reports, “When the TikTok trucking community caught wind of this sad situation, they took to the internet to remedy the situation.” And remedy they did. Truckers sent horn blasts both virtual and in person. Check out this video her mother made thanking the drivers who answered this call. #AirPumpsForEva indeed!
WTT this week
Wednesday — The SpaceX of the sea; a vision for passion — the story behind Leaf Logistics; and are moving lines moving in on final mile? With Anthony DiMare, CEO and co-founder of Bedrock Ocean Exploration; Anshu Prasad, CEO and co-founder, and Peter “P.J.” Benoit, the “big kahuna of sales,” at Leaf Logistics; and Meghan Meurer, executive vice president of sales at Unigroup.
Friday — Building the next-gen data-driven autonomous vehicle insurance company; what’s new in InsurTech; the regional carrier market report; and knowing your logistics company’s worth. With Kamron Khodjaev, co-founder and chief commercial officer of Koop Technologies; Terry Douglas, CEO of Express Courier; Ron Lentz, managing partner at Logisyn Advisors; and Devin Bostik, CEO and founder of LuckyTruck.
Now on demand
Freight storm rages on
Staying on the rails in intermodal
The shipping crisis new mascot
How a delayed bobblehead has defined shipping in ‘21 — WTT has secured a voucher for a Ryan Zimmerman bobblehead and when he arrives in October we’ll chronicle the journey on an episode of the show. Take a look.
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