In 2009, Maersk surprised the U.S. transportation industry when it announced that it would no longer directly provide chassis to truckers, forwarders and cargo interests due to the increasing maintenance costs and liabilities associated with the service. Since the initial announcement, the majority of the larger ocean carriers followed suit, putting the onus of providing these container chassis on to the rest of the transportation industry particularly the intermodal drayage operators.
With carrier supplied equipment in limited supply, chassis are now being facilitated through pools, co-ops, and leasing companies. While this has contributed to increased operational costs, it only paints part of the picture.
The procedural change has had implications inland as well. Many railyards will need to gradually shift from wheeled to “stacked” operations, in which chassis are stored four or five high on ground. This development will add moves and costs for the intermodal drayage operators. It is estimated that the turn-time for grounded operations is 15 to 45 minutes longer than at wheeled facilities. Also, storage of chassis at off-site equipment pool facilities will create additional trips for truckers, which increases expenses.
While these expenses are hard for the drayage operators to digest, the unfortunate truth is that this may be the new norm. While the ocean carriers move away from what was traditionally their responsibility, it will be up to the rest of the transportation segments to remain flexible and absorb these added costs of doing business.