New home construction, home improvements by DIYers making the best of more time at home, and demand for new flooring have seen dramatic increases in the US during the pandemic, causing a domino effect of shortages and delays across the US and around the world. The increases over the past 6-8 months have swelled to an overwhelming demand, which is good for business – except the supply chain is struggling to keep up. Logjams have been building all across the United States, delaying the delivery of goods by rail, water and truck.
Several factors have contributed to delays causing scenes like the one at the Los Angeles port in March 2021. Ships are dropping anchor outside of ports in Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and all the way up into British Columbia, awaiting their turn to unload cargo. Some ships have been waiting up to a month, with their crews forced to stay aboard, so near, yet so far, from the shore.
photo credit Translink Shipping
Once the ships can finally ease into port and offload their goods, the other links in the transportation chain, trucking and rail, are bringing their own delays to the party.
Trucking has its own elevated levels of demand, compounded by the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse’s recent disqualification of 40,000 drivers for violations, while fewer new licenses were issued because of the pandemic. Weather from Texas throughout the Midwest contributed to the delays this winter, plus regulatory freezes and policy reviews with a new government administration.
After record levels of rail carloads during the holiday season, railroad is now experiencing a “general slowness,” due to winter weather, workforce shortages, and continued border restrictions. The same winter storms that halted trucking also affected rail delivery. In addition, even though railroads have dramatically improved efficiency of rail design and fuel consumption, pressure from the new administration to transition away from fossil fuels could lead to routing cargo to other modes of transportation until more fuel changes are made.
If all that wasn’t enough, unusual delays from the Chinese New Year in 2021, and a dramatic 80% increase in costs to ship a container of goods since November 2020, created a perfect but unfortunate storm of delays and shortages predicted to last into the summer. However, predictions across all three shipping channels are projecting improvement by Fall as the US and the world slowly recover from the pandemic.