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Why Texas can’t solve California’s port delays

Long Beach, CA - October 13 Dozoens of container ships sit off the coast of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, waiting to be unloaded. President Biden is set to announce Wednesday that the Port of Los Angeles would operate around the clock to alleviate a logistical bottleneck that has left dozens of container ships idling off the California coast and Americans waiting longer to get products manufactured overseas. The agreement to have longshoremen unloading cargo through the night is intended to speed the flow of toys, electronics and other gifts to American doorsteps during the holiday season. in on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Long Beach, CA. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Posted on November 15, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott, who never misses an opportunity to take a swipe at California, is trying to get ships stuck off the coast of Los Angeles to come to Texas.

“Texas ports are open & ready to help fix America’s supply chain backlog,” tweeted Abbott. “We can get goods out faster & at a lower cost than California due to our centralized location.” The tweet was accompanied by a short promotional video that said “escape California, everyone’s doing it.”

The problem is that this isn’t remotely feasible.

First, there’s the issue of time. It would take longer to sail from California to Texas than it would to simply wait out the delays. Abbott’s video falsely stated that ships were waiting up to 100 days. In reality, the delays were about 10 days on average earlier this fall and have now dropped to about seven to eight days. A ship traveling at 25 knots would take 9.3 days to travel from Los Angeles to Houston, and 25 knots is the higher end of container ship speed (they typically travel slower than that because fuel costs rise exponentially with speed).

9.3 days is assuming the ship sails through the Panama Canal, which itself has wait times that are often measured in days. Yet many of the large container ships that carry cargo across the Pacific are too big to fit through the canal. Obviously, sailing all the way around South America will take considerably longer and it simply isn’t worth it for a ship waiting off the coast of California to make that journey.

There’s also a capacity problem. While Houston has a large and growing port, it doesn’t come close to what would be needed to replace the ports of Southern California. Last year, the port of Houston handled 2.9 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units, the standard unit for measuring the volume of shipping). In contrast, the port of Los Angeles handled over 9 million TEUs, with the port of Long Beach handling another 8.1 million. The port of Houston simply doesn’t have the infrastructure or the workforce to even come close to being a viable alternative to Southern California, and neither does any other port in the country.

It’s not hard to see why Robert Khachatryan, chief operating officer of the Southern California firm Freightright, called Abbott’s statements “almost satire.”

Global logistics are incredibly complex and the pandemic has revealed how much we’ve taken for granted the ability to quickly and cheaply ship goods across oceans. The world’s supply chain woes certainly aren’t going to be fixed with simple slogans about “escaping” California.


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