Drayage acts as a crucial link in getting cargo to its final destination. These short-haul trucking services offer vital connections between ports, rail spurs, warehouses, storefronts, and other destinations.

In other words, drayage is an essential logistics function that keeps freight moving.

By definition, drayage refers to trucking freight over short distances. In this article, we’ll give you a deeper dive on this concept so you can understand why drayage is so vital to logistics. You’ll also understand why you might see a drayage line item on your freight invoice, and you’ll know exactly what you’re paying for when you’re shipping freight.

By the way, if you have questions about any other industry terms, make sure to check out our Approved glossary of freight and logistics terms!

What Is Drayage? What Role Does It Play in Logistics?


Simply put, freight simply couldn’t move from its origin to its destination point without drayage. Let’s take a look at a definition of drayage so you can understand why:


Drayage: A Definition

Drayage is a local trucking service that moves cargo over short distances.

To better understand the role drayage plays in logistics, let’s take a look at an example. A 40-foot ocean container is making its way from a vendor in Shanghai to a retail company located in Los Angeles, California. Along the journey, drayage services would come into play in the following areas:

  • To get the container to the port in Shanghai, a driver will need to pick it up from the vendor’s warehouse in Shanghai and move it to the port. This service would be considered drayage.
  • After the container arrives at the Port of Los Angeles, a driver will retrieve the container from the port and move it to the retail company’s nearby warehouse. That service would also be considered drayage.

Other examples of drayage include:

  • Transporting an intermodal container from a sea port to a rail yard to continue its journey to the final destination.
  • Moving an intermodal container from a hub to a nearby warehouse.
  • Transporting goods via truck between distribution centers located in the same metropolitan area.

The common thread in all of these examples is this: Drayage involves short trips via truck. It also often connects different modes of transportation to keep freight moving toward its destination.

FreightWaves reports that there are more than 60 million drayage movements in North America alone each year. This gives you a good sense of just how vital a role drayage plays in the movement of goods.

Drayage Services Explained

Now that we’ve offered you a definition of drayage, as well as some examples, let’s take a deeper look at the range of services that can fall under the category of drayage.

The Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) breaks down drayage into six different types in their glossary:

Six Types of Drayage

1. Cross-Town or Inter-Carrier Drayage: A movement of an intermodal unit across town from one railroad to another for continuance of the move.
2. Door-to-Door Drayage: Retail drayage involving over-the-road movement of a unit to a customer location.
3. Expedited Drayage: Movement of an intermodal unit over the road to get it there on time. This exceptional drayage usually involves time-sensitive freight.
4. IMX or Intra-Carrier Drayage: Movement of an intermodal unit from a carrier’s rail hub to the same carrier’s intermodal hub. IMX drayage extends the reach of an intermodal hub.
5. Pier Drayage: An over-the-road movement of an intermodal unit from a carrier’s rail hub to a port’s dock or pier.
6. Shuttle Drayage: A movement of an intermodal unit either loaded or empty from a hub to another parking lot because the railroad has run out of room at the hub.

These six types of drayage offer you another look at the way it acts as a vital connection when transporting freight. It bridges two transportation modes. It moves cargo between two nearby locations, and it can even facilitate logistics by alleviating backups at hubs.

Drayage Charges & Costs

Occasionally, shippers are introduced to the term drayage when they’re reviewing their shipping invoices.

Some freight providers offer all-in-one invoices that reduce all shipping costs to a single line item.

However, other freight providers will break out all the shipping charges, so that shippers can see a separate line item marked drayage.

What factors go into the cost of drayage? When calculating the price, your provider will consider things like:

  • Distance
  • Shipment weight
  • Shipment packaging and how easily it can be moved/transported
  • Any required special handling

Shippers may also be subject to additional fees during drayage services. Depending on the circumstances of your shipment, these charges may include:

  • Tolls – If the driver has to pay a toll at any point during drayage service, those tolls will likely be charged back to the shipper.
  • Detention fees – Typically, a certain amount of waiting time is included when the driver is picking up or dropping off cargo. If the driver has to wait longer than the included “free time,” shippers may be charged a detention fee.
  • Demurrage fees – If the shipper isn’t able to arrange for a timely pickup of their container via a drayage provider, they may be subject to demurrage fees. Demurrage fees are charged when a container is left at the port or terminal beyond the agreed-upon “free time.”

When you’re getting a quote for your shipment, make sure to ask about any additional fees, such as the ones listed above. A good freight provider will walk you through any “extras”—and help you estimate your final cost so you can protect your bottom line.

Drayage: The Challenges

As with any link in the supply chain, there are a few challenges that can crop up around drayage. While these challenges are largely out of shippers’ control, it’s important to understand them—and plan for them—so you can effectively manage your supply chain.

Frequently Asked Questions About Drayage

Finally, let’s go through a few questions we often get about drayage service. If you have any additional questions, you can always contact our team.

What Is Drayage Service?

Drayage service moves cargo over short distances via truck. For example, moving a container from the Port of Los Angeles to an intermodal hub would be considered drayage service.

What Does Drayage Do?

Drayage is a short-haul trucking service that moves freight to a nearby location. It might connect two modes of transportation, such as ocean and long-haul trucking. Drayage can also move freight between locations within a contained area, such as two distribution centers located in the same greater metropolitan area.

What Is an Example of Drayage?

If a driver picks up a container at the Port of Long Beach and delivers it to a nearby warehouse for unloading, that would be an example of drayage.

Why Do They Call It Drayage?

Drayage finds its origin in the word dray—a cart used to move heavy loads. These carts were pulled by horses, called dray horses. The goods loaded onto these carts were heavy, so the dray horses could only take them so far. As a result, drayage became synonymous for moving cargo over short distances.

What Is the Difference Between Drayage and Long-Haul?

The difference between drayage (short-haul trucking) and long-haul trucking lies mainly in the distance traveled. Just as it sounds, short-haul trucking/drayage involves quick trips, while long-haul trucking involves transporting cargo over greater distances.

Because of this difference, drayage and long-haul trucking utilize different equipment. Long-haul trucks are designed for extended journeys, while drayage trucks are designed for trips that last no longer than a day.

What Kind of Trucks Are Used for Drayage?

The trucks used for drayage are generally heavy-duty, Class 7 and 8 trucks. Traditionally, these vehicles have been diesel powered. However, there’s a significant movement toward zero-emissions drayage trucks. This is especially true in California, where Advanced Clean Fleets regulation is aimed at 100% zero-emission drayage trucks in the state by 2035.

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