We’ve seen “uberization” – changing the market by introducing a new way of using or buying a service – in a number of industry sectors including the taxi business (think Uber, Lyft) and hospitality (Airbnb, HomeAway), among others. In addition, just as you can find and pay for a ride using your mobile device, business services can now also be sourced, purchased, managed, and delivered using a desktop, smartphone, or tablet – from anywhere in the world. The uberization of business services means that you can access the skills you need, at the price you want to pay, anytime, anywhere.

What does this all mean for the future of the container shipping industry and terminals? A recent article in The Maritime Executive took a look at the possibilities of uberization in the sector and believes that we could begin to see an impact in this area starting with parcel logistics, a market struggling to find enough trucks and drivers to deliver all their parcels at peak times in urban areas. Imagine, says the article, in lieu of contracting with Uber as a driver, an individual signs up as a parcel delivery agent. The driver would receive a notification from a company such as DHL on his or her mobile app, instructing package pick up and destination for a set fee.  

The next step would be to apply this Uber-type service for heavier logistics, says the article. Right now, truck transport is contracted by a single party (shipping line) to pick up certain specific containers and deliver them somewhere at a predetermined time. Typically, the truck on the return trip is empty of cargo. Now imagine you have a contract driver who could view a range of open orders on a consolidated system and choose one nearest to his/her delivery address. This could be done hours before delivering the previous container, as the end customer in the logistics chain naturally needs some certainty about their order. 

Also, what if, instead of waiting, trucks simply showed up at the terminal and picked up their containers, which were just ready for delivery? As shipping containers are already standardized, their truck transportation could be relatively easy to uberize, notes the article. The impact could be significant for all parties: Fewer (empty) trucks on the road resulting in fewer traffic jams; lower costs of last-mile transportation thanks to better fleet utilization and higher efficiency at terminal gates due to fewer trucks and shorter waiting times.

These ideas are not new but with advanced technology like cloud services and smart phones, the reality may not be too far in the future. There are skeptics, however, with a lot having to change to make this work, including contractual, business and earnings models. And, of course, picking up a passenger or a small parcel is not certainly nothing like handling a 30-ton shipping container.

About Roanoke Underwriting

Roanoke Underwriting serves the commercial marine insurance and customs bond needs of agents and brokers throughout North America working with supply chain risks and logistics service providers. For more information about our products, please contact us at 1.855.213.4545.