Monday, April 20, 2020

Trucking Run Down - A Quick Tour of the Less Than Truckload Freight System Around the US

Things to Note About LTL Shipping in the States
Shipping News Feature

US – One of the things which always seem to puzzle international shippers, and indeed many freight forwarding agents, are the different terms used in the different markets around the world. We make no apologies for taking time in this strange period, with the virus dominating all headlines, to take time out to look at different aspects of the logistics industry which may bore some regular readers, but help explain to others some details which may prove of interest, and possibly even of use.

Firstly we should thank American Export Lines (AEL) for their vast experience in the field and providing many of the following facts. The US term less than truckload, or LTL, is really self-explanatory and only really confusing when the acronym only is used. It refers exclusively to road haulage but there are many similar such terms which essentially are the equivalent and used across Europe and further afield in various other modal sectors.

Less Container Load (LCL) can be switched to Groupage or Consolidated Cargo but in the US LTL is used widely as an extension to what is referred to there as cartage (which tends to be addressed to smaller shipments) also known to some as drayage, although that term more generally means haulage to or from a port or intermodal terminal. Both terms however refer to short journeys, usually no more than 25 miles, whereas LTL can be a movement over any longer distance, which even when a domestic movement is involved, can mean a vast coverage in an area as big as the US.

Obviously as opposed to full truckloads (or of course full container load (FCL) shipments) LTL will always mean smaller sized consignments, which AEL says in the US can be as little as 150 pounds (around 70 kilogrammes) but may range up to 15,000 pounds (approaching 7 tonnes), with the shipper paying a charge only for the amount of space they take in the truck. Spreading the cost this way means the carriers can set a tariff of rates to ensure they make their money without filling truck to absolute capacity.

Most consignments can be tracked in real time using modern technology, a necessary safeguard as the goods may find their journey broken at different points for transhipment (cross docking), particularly on long haul shipments. This is a point worth any shipper making clear before deciding which carrier to use, the less goods are handled, the less likely to be damaged.

Besides the normal transport of the goods from point A to point B there are additional service ‘add ons’, all of which have formal titles (and usually of course, extra charges):

  • Lift gate service - known in the UK as tail lift delivery, the delivering vehicle is equipped with a hydraulic platform capable of raising or lowering the goods to or from the ground. When coupled with a pallet truck this means the driver can collect or drop a palletised consignment as opposed to handling the cargo onto the vehicle or down to the deck, something which would not be possible for single items much over 50 kilogrammes (bearing in mind the height of the vehicle bed).
  • Residential service – This normally means delivery to a private address and often involves one or more extra staff accompanying the driver to help load/unload, as with a removal of personal or household effects. Also make sure the carrier knows of any problems with access at either end, known in the trade as Limited Access, this may be a large vehicle and it is the shipper’s responsibility to inform the carrier if there is likely to be a problem on loading or discharge
  • Collect on Delivery (COD) – again more usually known in the UK as Cash on Delivery this means the consignee doesn’t pay for the goods until they are received, but the carrier undertakes to collect the amount owed to the sender
  • Inside pickup/delivery – the goods are actually collected or delivered by the driver within the shippers premises (normally shipments are only door to door)
  • Arrival notification – the carrier will liaise with the consignee (or post-delivery the shipper) to advise forthcoming delivery details. Often this will be via an SMS text message or similar system

LTL shipments may involve a longer shipping time overall as opposed to cartage because of the extra time it takes to load and unload the trailer, as well as the additional time it takes to deliver cargo to multiple locations. Customers may find that it takes a little longer to receive the freight, so this needs to be weighed up against the lower cost and other benefits of LTL shipments.

Because of the size, and potentially the re-handling element, it is advisable that all goods are suitably packed, a proper case, crate or strapped on a pallet, minimising the damage potential. Remember to spread out heavier items at the bottom, and ensure that the packing is substantial enough to have other goods loaded on top – you are only paying for the space you are using – not the full height of the vehicle! Photographs taken of the goods before loading can be very useful should a claim situation arise.

Don’t be inclined to short change the carrier by under declaring the weight or dimensions. Doing so may completely negate your chances of a claim or render you liable to a heap of extra charges for re-weighing/measuring. If there are special requirements for the shipment make sure each pallet or crate is labelled with specific labels such as ‘Fragile’, ‘Do Not Stack’, ‘This side up’ and ‘Handle with Care’. This doesn’t guarantee that no damages will occur, but it will certainly help all operators that touch your freight to be more cautious.

So hopefully that may clear up a few differences in terminology and maybe educate those readers to whom this are of logistics is outside their normal parameters.

Photo: For consignees without unloading facilities a lift gate service is essential.