The supply chain has come under a great deal of scrutiny lately due to bottlenecks keeping cargo on ships offshore, preventing many products from reaching store shelves. This has been an ongoing challenge, and in recent months, the time to offload cargo has only grown. While ports face the challenge of unloading the ships, the on-land challenge becomes moving those container shipments to their proper destinations — a problem that has only been exacerbated by the driver shortage in recent years.
Once products make it off the ships and onto trucks, perhaps one of the most challenging aspects is navigating supply chain complexities to ensure products reach customers. In a country as vast as the U.S., where millions of people populate compact cities, the complexities are only multiplied. As the pandemic forced shippers and logistics providers to adapt to supply chain disruptions, the rise of e-commerce accelerated, causing a spike in the need for less-than-truckload (LTL) services. This consumer demand is driving freight companies, specifically LTL carriers, into densely populated cities to an even greater degree.
To deliver for the millions of people living in these areas, not only do shippers have to first find an LTL carrier who services these cities, carriers must also be willing to assume the burden of navigating complex urban delivery conditions. To guarantee successful delivery, it is critical that both carriers and shippers understand the inbuilt infrastructure shortcomings and comply with city regulations. Only by first understanding these and many other possible problems in dense metropolitan areas can carriers overcome them.
Urbanization has long been a trend that has shaped the American landscape. From cities like New York, Boston and Atlanta on the East Coast to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle on the West Coast, the development of these densely packed cities and their surrounding suburbs has heavily influenced the operations of transportation and logistics providers. Each region has different regulations and infrastructure to navigate.
A prime example of all these different intricacies is New York, where just getting into the city with a commercial vehicle is a unique challenge. The Lincoln Tunnel doesn’t allow trucks while the Holland Tunnel only allows up to three-axle straight trucks and no hazardous materials loaded on board. That leaves only the George Washington Bridge or the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge as access routes into New York for larger commercial vehicles. Even on the outset of delivery, carriers are dealing with tough situations.
In addition to limited route access, speed of delivery is also an issue. Trucks performing LTL deliveries in the New York metro area generally average under 5 MPH from terminal departure to return. Once drivers arrive at a delivery stop, they often have to deal with outdated and challenging dock procedures. From freight elevators to antiquated loading docks, these challenging dock operations only add costs and time to the receiving process.
City regulations add additional obstacles for carriers. Recent enforcement for New York’s Truck Idling Program has made things even more difficult and costly for drivers and transportation companies. A new web portal exists for citizens to act as bounty hunters to report idling trucks, which rewards them with 25% of the minimum $350 fine. This vigilante approach ramps up enforcement but ignores operational necessities such as lift-gate deliveries, which are essential for many small businesses and others that have limited or no receiving capabilities. Temperature controlled shipments also require power to run cooling or heating equipment which may be mistaken as unnecessary idling.
Then, add in the rules of the road that drivers have to follow. The maze of mandatory truck routes can be troublesome to weave through even for experienced drivers. Parking and moving violations and route restrictions for commercial vehicles are rigidly enforced within the city. When drivers make a delivery at a location without a dedicated parking spot, they risk costly parking fines. One wrong turn could be costly — $250 for the first offense, $500 for a second and $1,000 for each thereafter. For this reason alone, many commercial drivers refuse dispatches into New York.
Each city is unique and has its own variables that impact deliveries, but one constant in every urban setting is traffic and citizen congestion. As more cities implement green initiatives and encourage residents to use alternative modes of transportation like bikes, there is a need to add infrastructure such as bike lanes. While these measures may be positive for the environment, many American cities are simply not built to accommodate such an arrangement. This brings an additional layer of complexity which adds to an already unfavorable logistical environment.
All of this doesn’t even take into account high traffic days. For example, the New York Department of Transportation designates the busiest traffic days of the year as Gridlock Alert Days, which encourage people to use alternative modes of transportation to help ease congestion on the roads. Special events in the city may even force street closures altogether. These issues compound upon one another and make it difficult for even the most experienced carriers.
Every city presents its own set of challenges, so it’s important for businesses to do the proper research and work with a carrier that meets their needs. For example, due to the reasons listed above and more, there are only a handful of LTL carriers that service all of the New York zip codes on a direct basis. If a shipper is looking to make a delivery into New York for the first time, it first needs to identify and work with an LTL partner who understands and is equipped to deal with the challenges city deliveries present.
It’s vital for shippers and carriers to collaborate and ensure that everyone involved understands the specifications of a delivery, especially ones that involve traveling into densely populated cities with greater regulations. Preparation and a team effort can guarantee deliveries are completed on-time and with as little disruption to business as possible.
John Luciani is chief operating officer for LTL solutions at A. Duie Pyle.
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