In the shipping industry and logistics, drayage is the transport of goods over a short distance, often as part of a longer overall move and is typically completed in a single work shift. Some research defines it specifically as "a truck pickup from or delivery to a seaport, border point, inland port, or intermodal terminal with both the trip origin and destination in the same urban area."
The term originally meant "to transport by a sideless cart", or dray. Such carts, pulled by dray horses, were used to move goods short distances, historically limited by the physical limitations of a dray horse. Dray activities generally occurred at marine ports, spreading to canal and rail terminals. Over time, the dray horse was replaced by the delivery truck.
The study of drayage is relatively new, as recent events have elevated the prominence of the dray industry. Economically, NAFTA and the growth of globalized trade have dramatically increased imports and exports that are shipped in marine International Organization for Standardization containers. Furthermore, the rise in fuel costs have limited the options for cost-cutting along the supply chain. Although drayage is a very small component (both in terms of time and distance) of the supply chain, its cost and potential problems can be disproportionately high.
In addition, various interest groups began realizing the influence of drayage. For example, environmentalists sought to reduce harbor trucking pollution by regulating dray activities. Shocked by the spike in fuel prices, businesses became more aware of the costs of port congestion and regulations concerning driver hours of service. Public safety advocates worried that dray trucks, which use city streets during normal working hours, were "under-regulated and a risk to commuters". Lastly, organized labor was concerned about the bargaining power of the trucking industry, as dray drivers were purported to be "low bid carriers".
In intermodal freight transport, drayage  is the transport of containerized cargo by specialized trucking companies between ocean ports or rail ramps and shipping docks. The final recipient of the container, however, is not necessarily the final customer for the goods contained within. For example, distribution centers and container freight stations specialize in unpackaging and resorting the contents of the container for delivery in a larger semi-trailer to a final customer such as a retail store.
Border dray transfer systems are relatively simple. Dray vehicles transport the semi-trailers across a nation's border, principally shuttling back and forth between trucking yards, broker facilities, and warehouses.
Drayage service is sometimes used in trade shows, where a large number of vendors gather in a large exhibition area with a large number of products. Because of the sheer volume of goods, it would create mass confusion if the individual vendors transported their own goods and equipment into the site. Convention centers and hotels do not have the facilities, equipment, or manpower to manage the receiving and storing of all the exhibit freight. Thus, the exhibit sponsor assigns and recommends a drayage service for the entering and exiting of freight and products.
Drayage services are generally provided by a national trucking or shipping company or an international shipment brokerage firm. Drayage service provides for:
- Completing inbound carrier's receiving documents;
- Delivery of goods to the booth from the receiving dock;
- Storage of empty crates and extra products at a warehouse on site or close by;
- Transfer of goods from the booth to the receiving dock and loading them back onto the carrier;
- Completing outbound carrier's shipping documents.
Drayage service is also common in many malls and shopping streets where there is a high concentration of retailers. In such locations, delivery companies such as UPS or FedEx cannot efficiently deliver the goods to individual retailers due to parking restrictions or pedestrianization measures. Instead, the mall or street association prepares a drayage area in a convenient location, where all packages from the tenants and couriers are collected and distributed. This is similar to a mail room facility at large corporations.
- Harrison, Robert; Nathan Hutson, Jolanda Prozzi, Juan Gonzalez, John McCray, Jason West (February 2009). "The Impacts of Port, Rail, and Border Drayage Activity in Texas". Center for Transportation Research, the University of Texas at Austin. p. 2. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
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