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Supply chain challenges brought on by the pandemic have rocked industries across the nation manufacturing, retail, construction and many other sectors have been plagued by shortages and logistical issues.

It’s become so impactful that in June, the White House unveiled a Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force to “provide a whole-of-government response to address near-term supply chain challenges … (and) to diagnose problems and surface solutions – large and small, public or private that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints.”

Long-haul freight is one of the most central pillars of the national supply chain. And Department of Transportation professionals are uniquely positioned to help maintain the flow of long-haul freight so it’s important to know how and why freight can be vulnerable to disruption.

Here, we detail five supply-chain disruptions, before exploring how high-quality transport data can help keep you one step ahead of them.

1. COVID-19 prevention

By this point, we’re all intensely familiar with social distancing. These and other safety measures were widely implemented to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. But in spaces that were designed for the pre-pandemic world, these measures can lead to significant disruptions.

The most prominent example of this can be seen at some of America’s busiest ports, like Los Angeles and Long Beach. Dozens of container ships remain moored offshore, as there’s no space for them to dock. On September 15th, the total number of ships waiting to dock was a record 88.

The Port of Savannah is also seeing an immense backlog of another kind, as tens of thousands of containers accumulate in heaps on the port grounds, all awaiting pick-up.

These slowdowns are largely due to the number of COVID-19 protocols in place, including the cleaning of cranes and equipment, daily health screenings for staff and social distancing. Combine those operational limitations with a huge increase in demands for goods and you’ve got a recipe for some serious congestion.

2. COVID-19 recovery

Counterintuitively, the recovery of our economy itself is also causing problems for our infrastructure.

Total retail spending – comprising both online and in-store purchases – has averaged 16% higher than pre-pandemic levels so far this year, and this high level of demand is placing strain on manufacturing and logistics processes.

This becomes understandable when you consider that many factories, warehouses and logistics companies were forced to downsize during the pandemic. The operational agility required to scale back up again at speed is beyond all but the most well-staffed, well-funded organizations.

Transportation infrastructure like ports, roads and railroads are under similar pressure to upscale to match the newly roaring demand. As expected, this can cause issues for Department of Transportation professionals that need to access funding and resources quicker than ​​bureaucracy tends to allow.

 

3. An ecommerce boom

Ecommerce has long been at the whirring heart of the transportation industry, but it’s also been a catalyst for strained infrastructure.

Even before the pandemic, the World Economic Forum was predicting that congestion from delivery traffic would rise by over 21% before 2030.

Again, port activity is emblematic of a shift in supply chain activity. According to Forbes, cargo ships are now double or triple the size that they were in the early 2000s and can now hold more than 20,000 containers.

As a result, they require more truck, train and warehouse capacity to load and unload demanding even more from a currently strained infrastructure.

4. A driver-demand mismatch

The unprecedented demand for goods has also led to an unprecedented demand for space on our roads.

Even back in 2019, industry demand exceeded the available number of freight drivers in the U.S.  to the tune of 60,000 drivers. Now, that shortage is expected to grow to 100,000 by 2023.

The pandemic instigated a wave of accelerated retirements among older drivers and delayed the training process for new drivers-to-be. Governments are considering measures to fill the gap in availability, such as facilitating the immigration process for potential drivers.

If and when those efforts pan out and a surge of drivers take to the road, local Departments of Transportation experts will need to consider the risks of transportation corridors being congested or disrupted, and how to mitigate against this.

 

5. Last-mile deliveries

Urban streets grew quiet and empty at the height of the pandemic – with a few exceptions. Last-mile deliveries drastically ramped up. Now, as commercial traffic numbers return and increase, some logistical challenges are arising. Freight routes are having to contend with newly crowded corridors that are bustling with last-mile deliveries.

Routes that were previously viable are no longer as reliably efficient as they were. This kind of shift highlights the importance of having near real-time, relevant data, that provides context into erratic traffic patterns.

In order to avoid congestion that hampers both commercial and last-mile operations, transportation departments may need to invest in urban road infrastructure, or clearer routes to suburban warehousing.

Conclusion

There are many issues facing long-haul freight transportation in the U.S. but the key to succeeding lies within relevant data. In this case, that means intelligent transportation data that allows for more real-world insight and less guesswork.

For example, Department of Transportation professionals that look after major ports can use real-world data to track the number of vehicles who visit the port, the amount of time vehicles are spending waiting in and around the port and where they travel afterwards.

Meanwhile, those that look after major highways can quickly identify bottlenecks that cause freight trucks to spend high amounts of time in traffic. From there, you can more accurately estimate the cost of these delays and better justify funding ultimately helping you create a better future for the infrastructure of your area. The possibilities truly are endless.

At Geotab ITS, we equip you with the necessary insights needed to make key decisions with confidence. You can find out more about our Altitude platform here.

 

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