Chain of Thought

Logistics Solutions: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

I've been talking to seasoned logistics professionals lately about their strategies to overcome the limitations of their local transportation infrastructures. Their work is inspiring.

For example, Alastair Smith, senior director of operations for the Port of Vancouver, is faced with handling 5 million tons of cargo every year. However, he expects that volume to triple by 2020, thanks to growth in the Asian agricultural markets his organization serves. To prepare the Port for that growth his organization is improving rail access in and out as well as deepening the waterway serving the Port so it will be able to accommodate larger ocean vessels.

“We've been working for the last 4-5 years in our West Vancouver freight access rail development program to complete a new access into the port that instead of crossing the main line we'll go underneath,” he told me. “You can imagine with the amount of traffic that crosses a mainline, taking all that traffic off of it helps not only the port but overall efficiencies in the Pacific Northwest. So we have gotten strong support from the railroads and from the departments of transportation in the Pacific Northwest.”

Meanwhile, in the Southeast, Jim Hertwig, president and CEO at Florida East Coast Railway and former president at CSX Intermodal, is working on improving the rail service to the Port of Miami. He told me he's expecting Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant money to help restore on-dock rail at the port. It's a $50 million project of which his organization is putting in $11 million and federal, state and local funds will take care of the balance. The project will upgrade the track going down to the port.

The big problem is, with Miami being more consumers than producers, most trucks go in full and come back empty. Jim's organization came up with an online tool for brokers to find a truck, book a truck, and through a drayage operation between Jacksonville and Miami, provide pickup and delivery for one rate just like a truckload carrier. Bottom line, the service provides the economic benefit of a backhaul.

These gentlemen have paid many years of dues to get to this point in the careers. That's why it was kind of jarring to get a press release this week from a high school graduate describing her vision for overcoming the logistics limitations of the U.S. Postal Service. Raaheela Ahmed describes herself as a student entrepreneur. The need she and her fellow students saw was to replace the delays and poor handling of the USPS and FedEx with, an online database that allows its members to do one of two things:

• post their availability to carry materials from one place to another while they travel as passengers by air;

• search for a traveler to carry materials from one place to another.

Once a match is found, it is up to the service provider (the person carrying the materials) and the service user (the person sending the materials) to coordinate all the details, like picking up/dropping off, price for the service, etc. The core team behind SendwithMe consists of four college students and their “experienced mentors.” These students attend different schools in the state of Maryland.

Their release concludes with the following caveat:

“ only acts as a platform for introducing members and does not partake in the actual discussion or agreements of the delivery of goods between members. Any illegal use of this site is prohibited by SendwithMe.”

Think that will scare miscreants from abusing this system? I wish these kids luck, but their venture doesn't look like it's off to a good start. I tried going to their website and found nothing but white space. Maybe it's under construction. If so, I recommend they use the downtime productively by networking with guys like Alastair Smith and Jim Hertwig—logisticians who are relying on other logisticians to solve supply chain shortcomings.

Besides, as a frequent traveler, I don't relish the idea of being in the middle of the www.sendwithMe supply chain as one of their “carriers” tries to get his “delivery” through the same TSA line I'm in. I can hear him now: “No, really, that's just a nerf bazooka, sir.”

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