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What Is Drayage?

February 18, 2022 Kevin Baxter

Dray load

Drayage is a logistics term that refers the transport of goods over a short distance. More specifically, drayage is the movement of a container or trailer to or from the railroad intermodal terminal - or sometimes a port - to or from the customer's facility for loading or unloading. This movement/transport occurs most commonly via truck. The key distinction between drayage and truckload transport is simply the distance. Dray trucks take goods typically take goods either to a starting point of a longer journey or across the finish line. Either way, they're needed when a different form of transport - like rail or container ship, doesn't have a method to reach a warehouse or other customer facility. Drayage is also shorthand for the fee charged for the service.

What is dray in logistics?

In logistics terms, dray refers to the actual vehicle - nowadays a chassis truck - used to carry out drayage. In other words, the dray truck transports containers over a short distance as a component of a longer shipping journey. The driver is referred to as the dray driver or in legacy terms, the drayman. The term dray originally referred to a cart with low or no sides. It was initially pulled by a horse, carrying out a similar task of transporting goods from marine ports (and eventually rail and canal terminals) a short distance. When horseless carriages - AKA cars and trucks - came along, the horse and cart combo was replaced by a semi-truck trailer.

Dray trucks may be part of a dray service or dray line, which specializes in drayage activities. Some focus on intermodal, some on ocean ports. A few larger carriers may have their own dray services, but the number of independent dray services is only growing. Regardless, drayage is a vital piece of the freight and logistics puzzle. The Intermodal Association of America (IANA) recently recorded more than 60 million dray movements in a given year. Many loads require drayage at both the front and backend, and sometimes in the middle of the journey as well.

What is the difference between drayage and cartage? 

While drayage and cartage refer to somewhat similar activities - the transfer of goods for a short-haul journey - the major difference has to do with the container. Drayage transfers the full container directly onto a chassis (or vice versa) for this short distance trip. On the other hand, cartage involves taking goods out of the container and dispersing them onto multiple vehicles for short-distance delivery to multiple destinations - often within a metro area. So while drayage is limited to a chassis truck, cartage can be carried out using different vehicles depending on the load, from vans to box trucks to semi-trucks. While drayage means less handling of goods, cartage is synonymous with transloading, and both methods have their advantages. On a more official level, drayage also carries IANA classifications unlike cartage which does not.

What is drayage cost?

Drayage cost - or drayage fee - refers to the cost of hiring a dray service to move a load a short distance. The drayage cost is typically calculated by the weight of the container to the nearest 100 pounds. Often, dray services will require a minimum weight of 200 pounds and a weight below that number must be rounded up. The drayage cost includes equipment needed to move a container, the truck itself, the driver, and often a place to store the container. It may also include the return of an empty one after delivery either after it's immediately unloaded, or a return trip to pick up the empty later, also referred to as a drop fee. There are also fees for expedited service.

As drayage is a necessary step in many shipping journeys, avoiding drayage costs altogether is not feasible, but a well-planned shipment can minimize the extras. That means timing steps out to avoid storage days, having a crew ready to unload a container at the scheduled delivery time, and before all of that, combining loads for maximum weight efficiency to avoid paying for those rounded up weights.

Optimizing the drayage (or cartage) process and finding the right dray service can be a challenge, but that's where an experienced third party logistics provider (3PL) like InTek Freight & Logistics can help. Reach out to us and we'll be happy to discuss your specific shipping needs. Put us to work for you and use our connections and expertise to help your shipments go smoothly.

Want more information about this and other freight & logistics topics? Check out our Learning Center to decipher more logistics terminology and find in-depth information about all things freight and shipping. Start here with a few links below: 

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