Georgia Ports Authority puts customers, drivers first as demand surges

Source: American Shipper
Date: 1st December 2022

Shifting volumes have brought more traffic to Southeast ports.

West Coast ports have been slammed with a slew of headwinds recently, including record-breaking congestion and labor disruptions. As a result, East Coast ports have gained popularity with shippers — and carriers — of all types.

The Port of Los Angeles saw throughput fall 25% year over year in October, and the Port of Long Beach experienced a 24% year-over-year drop. In contrast, the Port of Savannah experienced a 2% year-over-year climb, and the Port of Charleston realized 7% annual growth.

While a portion of the West Coast’s dropping volumes can be attributed to waning consumer demand for durable goods, the growth seen on the East Coast makes it clear that companies are beginning to favor the Eastern Seaboard.

“We’ve seen this time and time again. The West Coast has had challenges in the past, and there has been a shift in cargo to the East Coast,” said the Georgia Ports Authority chief operating officer.

Historically, when freight has shifted from west to east due to port challenges, the volume has not shifted back quickly once those issues are resolved. This means that East Coast ports — including Southeastern ports like those GPA operates — should be preparing for recent cargo influxes to stick around.

“When it shifts here, only 1-2% actually shifts back year over year,” according to the Georgia Ports Authority chief operating officer. “Truck drivers, BCOs and customers want ease of business. Georgia Ports Authority is easy to do business with.”

Georgia Ports Authority hosts a semiannual driver appreciation day at the ports. During these events, executives go out and speak to the truck drivers who move in and out throughout the day. This provides drivers an opportunity to offer feedback, whether giving compliments or airing grievances.

Recently, the Georgia Ports Authority chief operating officer has heard a lot of positive feedback from drivers who have moved from other areas of the country, especially the Northeast, due in large part to the ease of doing business in Georgia. In fact, GPA has had 5,300 new drivers register to operate at the ports this year alone, according to the Georgia Ports Authority chief operating officer.

This new traffic has, of course, proved somewhat challenging for the ports. Typically, GPA operates with a 20% capacity buffer, according to the Georgia Ports Authority chief operating officer. The surge of attention has overtaken that buffer this year, but the ports are still working hard to provide an efficient and pleasant experience for everyone who passes through.

To meet growing demand, GPA has focused on infrastructure improvement and expansion, including:

    • Reconstructing Berth 1 to provide extra capacity for ships over 14,000 twenty-foot equivalent units.
    • Expanding to create Garden City Terminal West with 90 acres of storage space and a new full-service truck gate.
    • Adding on to the Mason Mega Rail over the past several years.
    • Adding 20,000 new container slots at Garden City Terminal in 2022.

GPA has also expanded port operating hours — from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., to 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. This decision was based on feedback from local and regional carriers, and it has allowed them to make over 5,000 more container moves per day, according to the Georgia Ports Authority chief operating officer.

Ultimately, he views GPA as a partner to both drivers and the community at large. This attitude has guided the ports through a myriad of challenges, and it has undoubtedly played a role in GPA’s positive reputation in the industry.

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