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Drayage Service: A Short-Haul Freight Shipping Solution

Resources > Drayage Service: A Short-Haul Freight Shipping Solution
Finding reliable drayage service is essential to successfully completing your shipments. While a drayage carrier plays just a small part in the overall haul, it’s critical that you find a one to transport your freight correctly.
Published: November 9, 2021
Last Modified: September 15, 2023
Author: Josh Kimble

Drayage services are used by shippers every single day to move their freight along the supply chain. Shipments often have to travel thousands of miles, using multiple modes of transportation. Drayage helps move that freight between different legs of the journey to keep a shipment moving. So what is drayage service and — more specifically — how can it help facilitate the shipping process? 

According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), drayage service involves the transport of goods over a short distance. Drayage moves cargo between different types of freight, from a seaport to a rail station or a warehouse. It facilitates smooth transitions between long-haul freight carriers and local distribution points.

Our guide below will help you understand the full extent of drayage services and how choosing a trusted carrier to handle your shipment can benefit your business.

What is Drayage Service?

Drayage service is an essential aspect of the shipping process that involves moving goods over short distances by ground transport. This process is used to connect shipments for an overall longer haul.

The congestion found at ports has put a spotlight on drayage service and made it more prominent in transload and intermodal shipping. Sometimes referred to as the first mile, drayage trucking is the new first step to nationwide distribution.

One important thing to note is drayage isn’t a single, long-haul truckload. There is no set distance freight has to travel on the truck to be considered drayage. Rather, the concept is based on being a supplementary or connecting freight shipment to support an overall longer haul.  

In other words, the best way to approach the concept of drayage is by thinking of it as a small part of intermodal shipping. On its own, it might not seem to accomplish very much. But it is invaluable to the overall shipment of freight as a whole.

Drayage transportation service comes in different varieties and nuances important to the overall scheme. While distinct, they all roughly meet the same goal, even if the mechanics may be different.

Drayage trucking can actually work whether goods are on their way in or out. If you’re exporting goods out of the U.S., drayage might be used for the final miles of the journey to the port. This is pier drayage, which is also the phrase used to describe the other side of the short trip from the ocean port to the next juncture.

Drayage is meant to be used to link shipments, and, if done efficiently, can reduce and stabilize costs. When executed poorly, it can add shipping costs, either to the logistics company or directly to the freight’s owner. 

Drayage will not suddenly turn regular freight shipping into expedited shipping. However, it is deployed to increase the speed of commodity movements, since it cuts down on the time goods sit at a port or in a warehouse.
For more information on how drayage shipments work after freight arrives at a shipping port, check out our article on port drayage.

Using Drayage Trucking For Your Shipments

Cargo vessels docked at port with multiple cargo containers waiting for drayage service.

Drayage service is being offered more and more as a standalone service. However, many logistics companies will treat it as an add-on service to an overall shipment or supply chain movement.

Below are some specific examples of how a business can utilize drayage services.

  • Moving Cargo Out of Port: If your freight has entered a port and is unable to go directly to its final destination, a truck can pick up the shipping containers. They can then be taken to one of your facilities – whether that be a warehouse or distribution center.
  • Final Mile: Drayage can also work in reverse, as final-mile shipping. This would be where the freight was picked up from a warehouse or distribution center and then driven no more than a few hundred miles to the customer or retailer.
  • Transload Drayage: Another way drayage can be used for your shipments is as part of the transloading process. The freight can be taken a short distance to transloading facilities located near ports, highways, and on railroad tracks. From there, the freight can be loaded onto a train, or another truck. Facilitating movement from one mode of transport to another is also called intermodal drayage.

Basically, any road shipment you can have done on your behalf could be classified as drayage. The Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) has actually come up with a list of six different kinds of drayage services. 

The list includes: 

  1. Pier drayage
  2. Shuttle drayage
  3. Intra-carrier drayage
  4. Door-to-door drayage
  5. Inter-carrier drayage
  6. Expedited drayage

Below, is a table showing the top U.S. ports of entry in terms of total number of Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU’s) to pass through each port. 

Highest Volume U.S. Ports (2022)

Port of EntryTEUs
Los Angeles10,663,636
New Jersey and New York9,493,664
Long Beach4,288,103


Can Drayage Services be Used for Refrigerated Freight?

Refrigerated drayage services, better known as ‘reefer drayage’ can be used to transport temperature-controlled freight between terminals and distribution facilities.

Reefer drayage requires specialized chassis that can accommodate containers with built-in cooling systems. Depending on the freight being transported, it may require special care and handling prior to and after delivery. 

Once loaded onto the chassis, the refrigerated container is then hauled a short distance to its next destination, where it is transferred to the next leg of its journey.

What Type of Containers are Used During Drayage Services?

For drayage to occur, a shipment has to be loaded into a container, which is then loaded onto a chassis to be hauled by truck to its destination. The type of container used for this process varies depending on the type of freight being moved.

Containers most commonly come in 20-foot or 40-foot varieties, measured in TEUs (twenty-foot units). Depending on the freight, the container could come standard, have an open-top, require extra height, or even need temperature control abilities. The types of containers typically used for these include:

  • Dry containers
  • High cube containers
  • Open-top containers
  • Refrigerated (or reefer) containers

Depending on the container being used, you may require a special chassis for your drayage shipment.

How Much Does Drayage Service Cost?

A semi truck parked at port with a green storage container next to several stacks of cargo containers.

Drayage rates depend on a variety of factors, including: 

  • Weight of the shipment
  • Distance from origin to destination
  • Transportability (able to be moved by forklift, pallet jack, etc.)
  • Additional accessorial fees

The base costs of drayage are calculated according to the hundredweight (CWT) of the shipment. A carrier will have a set rate for drayage shipments, which they will then multiply by the CWT and add that total to any other fees that may be associated with hauling the freight. 

It’s important to note that CWT rounds up to the next hundred pounds. That means that if you have freight that weighs 310 pounds, and another that weighs 399 pounds, both shipments would be considered 4 CWT.

Other fees that can play a role in drayage rate calculations include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Chassis split fees
  • Demurrage charges
  • Detention fees
  • Drop fees
  • Fuel and mileage surcharges
  • Pre-pull fees
  • Toll fees

For more information on the costs associated with drayage services, check out our article on drayage rates and learn more.

How to Choose a Drayage Service Provider?

Drayage services can be provided by small carriers attached to specific ports or organized through large 3PLs. If you have shipments that enter through multiple ports, or have very routine shipments at a single port, working with a 3PL allows you to have a single point of contact. 

To find a drayage provider, there are a number of things about the carrier you need to consider, such as:

  • Distance from port/terminal to distribution facility
  • Cost of drayage services
  • Chassis availability
  • Locations across the state/country
  • Reliability and on-time percentage
  • Type of freight they’re able to move
  • Other services offered

A good drayage carrier will be able to communicate and work with you to ensure that they can fulfill all your business’s transportation needs. If you’re unsure of exactly what services you need, contact the carrier for a full list of services they’ll be able to provide.

Getting your shipments from point A to point B is vital to your business’s success. Don’t leave such an important part of the shipping process in the hands of a carrier that you don’t trust.

Drayage Services with R+L Global Logistics

Drayage service is essential to completing your freight shipments, which is why it’s critical that you work with a trusted 3PL drayage carrier. Let USA Truckload Shipping be that partner for you.

Whether it’s from the port to a distribution center or warehouse — or another brief leg of the journey — USA Truckload Shipping’s ability and flexibility sync up to enable us to provide any trucking service you need. We can help fill in the gaps of your freight shipments, including the short trips during drayage that link your loads to meet their end goal.

We also offer additional freight services, including:

With strategically located facilities across the country, a 99.5% on-time delivery, and chassis availability, we excel at moving your goods throughout your entire supply chain. 

Now that you’re familiar with drayage service and how it can help you meet your freight shipment requirements, be sure to reach out to USA Truckload Shipping today by calling us at (866) 353-7178, or submit an RFP directly through our site.

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