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Using Data to Understand Supply Chain Congestion at U.S. Ports

Stakeholders need better data about what is happening in the supply chain in order to fix it. Replica offers a fuller picture of activity.

Published on
July 26, 2022

This week, the White House announced a new initiative to improve access to key data about the supply chain in order to stem disruptions and congestion that have been prevalent from the early days of the pandemic.

By launching the Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW), the administration is pursuing an information exchange that can give stakeholders better data about what is happening in the supply chain.

At Replica, we’ve seen how powerful it is to have a comprehensive source of data at the center of conversations about building a more resilient and adaptable supply chain.

Helping California Better Understand Supply Chain Flows

We recently turned to our data tools to help California better understand the supply chain, the movement of goods, and the state of congestion at California’s ports. Our analysis was presented to the California Transportation Commission to demonstrate how the CTC can leverage large data sets to help unclog the supply chain, mitigate the impacts of freight movement, and better understand goods movement and congestion at California’s ports.

Replica dashboard of California’s San Pedro Bay Ports

We created this sample dashboard to offer a comprehensive look at conditions around the San Pedro Bay Ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The challenge, of course, is that the supply chain is incredibly complex, and so are the myriad ways it interacts with infrastructure, mobility patterns, and economic activity throughout the built environment. This effect is pronounced at major ports, especially when there is a disruption that causes shipping congestion. But there aren’t fast, reliable, and comprehensive sources of data that everyone can turn to to get the same understanding of what’s going on.

Our dashboard brings together Replica’s data about mobility and consumer spending activity with publicly available data about harbor vessel traffic and queuing data (e.g., Marine Exchange of Southern California), air quality data (e.g., CAAP), and other relevant data sources to better understand the relationship between port congestion, and its impact on trips and local economic activity.

Replica’s data shows how consumer spending is changing over time in California, as well as specific characteristics of trips that start at the ports. Note the trends in mid-November 2021: The orange marker shows when a new ship queue system was implemented at the ports.

By tracking such metrics, supply chain leaders can assess the impacts of operational changes and policy interventions to determine if they were effective, and if so, whether or not they should be replicated at other ports. It is also possible to see how this data compares from a year ago when conditions were different.

Better Understanding Port Congestion and Local Community Impacts

In addition to tracking metrics, Replica’s data can help illustrate primary factors for port congestion and the second-order impacts it has on neighboring places — many of them low-income communities of color.

These impacts include air pollution (see PM2.5 chart below), traffic safety, truck idling times, on street traffic, and consumer goods shortages. By getting a more complete view of offshore and onshore impacts, policymakers can design more targeted and effective interventions and assess their impacts. For example, how effective are ship queuing systems in reducing port congestion and increasing the potential for equitable health outcomes in neighboring communities?

The snapshot below depicts the network link volumes of commercial freight and the number of such trips on each network link from the ports of LA and Long Beach on a typical Thursday in Spring 2021.

Replica dashboard of California’s San Pedro Bay Ports

In Los Angeles, changes in commercial trip volumes and routes affect adjacent neighborhoods. In particular, the Wilmington neighborhood experiences ongoing massive truck traffic related to the nearby ports. According to residents, the congestion on neighborhood streets continues to worsen, making their streets unsafe, unhealthy and unpleasant. Figure 4 below shows particulate matter pollution levels in Wilmington, which have exceeded the federal standard (green line) multiple times since November 2021.

Replica dashboard of California’s San Pedro Bay Ports

Data dashboards like these bring additional muscle power to understanding the impact that infrastructure investments can have on supply chain disruptions and port congestion. Further, comprehensive, disaggregate mobility and socioeconomic data can help address urgent needs around inequities, a key focus of the federal government’s Justice40 initiative. This common operating picture can help take the guesswork out of infrastructure planning while targeting investments to build more equitable and resilient places.

About Replica

Replica is a data platform for the built environment. Our data and tools can help states with multiple ports and distribution centers create a common operating picture, monitor ongoing conditions with near real-time data, and evaluate the impact of strategic interventions from offshore activity, through commercial vehicle travel, down to consumer spending impacts.

Replica leverages a composite of data sources to build high value, affordable, privacy-sensitive tools to provide insight on the complex interactions of mobility, people, and economic activity, including commercial freight. This data can help states, port authorities, local public agencies, and the private sector make data-informed decisions to unclog the supply chain. More importantly, this data can be used by policymakers, planners, and operators to direct short- and long-term goods movement infrastructure investments, which also impact local communities, including low income and communities of color.

For more information on how Replica can help you with these challenges, please get in touch.

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Replica Editorial
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