Is US Transportation System Collapsing Under Pressure of Surging Shipments, Workforce Shortages?

© REUTERS / MIKE BLAKEA police boat patrols past a container ship at the congested Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California, U.S., September 29, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A police boat patrols past a container ship at the congested Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California, U.S., September 29, 2021.  REUTERS/Mike Blake - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.10.2021
Last week, dozens of cargo ships were reportedly stuck at the Los Angeles port unable to unload their cargo. The maritime jam was caused by workforce shortages at the port coupled with increased demand for overseas goods from retailers ahead of the holiday season.
The US transportation system has been facing mounting challenges over the past couple of months – it has been struck with surging shipments of overseas goods, while having not enough capacity to process and transport them in time. This has resulted in massive clogs across all logistics domains: maritime, air, ground, and railroad. There are several reasons for the current crisis: the American transportation system was not designed to handle the increased amount of goods that US citizens have been buying in the wake of the COVID-19 travelling restrictions.
Electronics, clothing, furniture, food, toys, and cars are among the categories of goods that have become stuck due to logistics failures. The situation has been exacerbated by the lack of workforce, also prompted by the pandemic, coronavirus restrictions, and even by the lack of containers needed to transport the goods.
A record number of cargo container ships wait to unload due to the  jammed ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach near Long Beach, California, U.S., September 22, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Blake - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.09.2021
Biggest LA Port Faces Massive Traffic Jam as Over 60 Ships Unable to Unload Their Cargo
As a result, several major US ports, in Los Angeles and New York, are seeing massive queues of ships – the highest, at least, since the onset of the pandemic. Over a dozen cargo ships are anchored outside New York's port. The estimated wait time for cargo ships off Los Angeles has reached four weeks amid worsening maritime jams. At least 66 ships were waiting to unload at LA's port as of the end of September, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.
The ports lost some of their workers to COVID-19 and are struggling to get replacements. The remaining are overwhelmed with work. LA's port is currently experimenting with a system that will allow receiving ships 24/7 and is urging vessel owners to use it. Despite transport companies failing to deliver some goods in time due to these issues, demand from retailers continues to grow, although some of them can no longer afford the growing shipping costs, the Daily Mail reported – the price of moving one container from China to the US has spiked from roughly $1,300 to $35,000 in some cases.

Switching From Ships to Aircraft

Railways and truck companies are faring no better. Daily Mail reported that the Chicago railroad, which boasts one of the country's largest railyards, had a 25 mile-long queue at one point. APM Terminals in LA is facing the same problem amid a surge in containers to be transported and a shortage of workforce.
The growth in shipping fares and costs of containers due to spiking demand and congestions in the transport system has led some importers to resort to aircraft transport. Existing air freighter flights have reportedly already been bought out in the US, with airports struggling to process them all, prompting companies to charter more plains to move goods. Even with these measures, transportation experts asked by the Daily Mail predicted that many goods might be unavailable in sufficient quantities ahead of the holiday season in the US.
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