‘Like going to Walmart on Black Friday’: Truck driver speaks on backlogs at US ports

As a backlog of over 500,000 shipping containers float off the coast of California and ports work round-the-clock to unload them, a truck driver described the shipping crisis from his perspective in a post on Medium.

In the post, truck driver Ryan Johnson said he sees no end in sight. According to Johnson, there aren’t enough cranes and crane operators at the ports to move the shipping containers – causing truck drivers to sit idle for hours on end. Around 14,000 truck drivers go through the port daily, Johnson said, and there is about one crane for every 50 or 100 trucks.

“Think of going to the port as going to Walmart on Black Friday, but imagine only ONE cashier for thousands of customers,” he wrote. “Think about the lines. Except at a port, there are at least THREE lines to get a container in or out. … For each of these lines the wait time is a minimum of an hour, and I’ve waited up to 8 hours in the first line just to get into the port.”

While some trucking carriers pay drivers for their idle time, the hours-long wait times are making it hard for independent contractors and CDL-A owner operators to turn a profit.

“They pay for all their own repairs and fuel, and all truck related expenses,” Johnson said. “I honestly don’t understand how many of them can even afford to show up for work. There’s no guarantee of ANY wage (not even minimum wage), and in many cases, these drivers make far below minimum wage. In some cases, they work 70-hour weeks and still end up owing money to their carrier.”

The White House recently opened two of the largest ports in the U.S. for 24/7 operators. But Johnson said the move alone will not clear the bottleneck.

“They are blowing smoke, and they know it,” he wrote. “What it will truly take to fix this problem is to run EVERYTHING 24/7: ports (both coastal and domestic), trucks, and warehouses. We need tens of thousands more chassis, and a much greater capacity in trucking.”

U.S. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said that the shipping crisis will continue until the pandemic is over. Experts have said it will be well into 2023, as the industry combats increased demand and a shortage of workers.