December 2009 | How-To | Ten Tips

Selecting the Right Port for Your Transport Needs

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Ports around the country vie to be the first choice for shippers' supply chains by providing a wealth of intermodal connections, capacity, and distribution facilities. Various member seaports of the American Association of Port Authorities offer the following strategies for selecting a port to fit your specific shipping needs.

1. Consider proximity.You can cut transportation costs by using a port located near your trading partners. Also be sure there are warehouse, distribution, and transload facilities nearby that can accommodate your containers and other cargo loads.

2. Examine workforce availability.The port should have access to an experienced workforce with a reputation for reliability. Don't just shop price—reliability and good service are equally, if not more, important. Make sure port management has a good relationship with its existing labor force.

3. Evaluate the port's investment in its infrastructure.The port should be taking steps such as enhancing its navigation channel access, reducing landside congestion, expanding terminal capacity, and working on better intermodal options for improved goods movement. It should also have a plan for handling periodic increased ocean and intermodal volume.

4. Know the port's restrictions.Weight limits for various cargoes vary by city and region. Overhead obstructions (bridges, tunnels, pedestrian walkways) and dimensional restrictions (vehicle/trailer length, width, and height) can hinder port access, while routes into and out of ports might require trucks to encounter multiple traffic lights or drive through light commercial or residential areas.

5. Look for a stable, predictable regulatory environment. Consider a port that has a strong relationship with and proven record of collaborating with industry, regulators, and legislators—including on environmental issues—to benefit shippers. Make sure the port is compliant with federal security initiatives.

6. Note Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) access. If you are involved in zone-to-zone transfers, exporting, international returns, or quality control inspections, select a port that has an approved and active FTZ to take advantage of the cost reductions associated with these activities.

7. Prepare for the unexpected. Consider a port that offers alternative services to container transport, such as an ability to handle traditional break-bulk cargo; oversized, over-dimensional project cargo; or roll-on/roll-off cargo ranging from automobiles and tractors to military equipment.

8. Calculate the port's savings potential.Determine if the port has processes in place to reduce overall transportation costs. For example, is there adequate capacity to eliminate congestion? Are procedures streamlined to reduce loading/unloading times and prevent delays? Ports with facilities for transferring fuel, food, water, waste materials, and supplies all in one place can shave hours off a vessel's time—and costs—at dock.

9. Investigate the port's container and vessel tracking tools.What kind of technology capabilities does it have? Can you also use those tracking tools for Internet access, e-mail, and text messages? Does the port provide a toll-free number?

10. Check the operating hours. Does the port have convenient operating hours to access port services? Investigate the dwell times between ship and rail.

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