Dwell time

Dwell time is an important consideration for any logistics strategy. Costing companies (and the public) billions of dollars every year, dwell time can be a costly burden in multiple ways across a logistics ecosystem. Learn more about the meaning of dwell time and its costly impact, as well as how to calculate it, and strategies for reducing it.

What is dwell time in shipping?

When it comes to logistics, shipping is often one of the first components that come to mind. In trucking or ground shipping, dwell time is the total amount of time a truck spends at a facility. The term is often used interchangeably with detention, which is the time a truck waits to be loaded or unloaded. Though often used interchangeably, detention is actually just a segment of the overall dwell time. 

To make things clearer, there’s also slack time, which is the time between a scheduled and actual arrival time. If a driver arrives earlier than scheduled—ahead of slack time—the dwell time may be longer. In short, dwell time starts when a truck arrives at a facility and lasts until it is unloaded and ultimately leaves for its next destination.


What is container dwell time?

When shipping is conducted by water or rail, container dwell time refers to how long a container sits at a port or railyard awaiting pick up after it’s dropped off by a train or vessel. Once the container is picked up, it's transported via a different method or carrier to the final destination. 

Long container dwell times can lead to delayed deliveries, so efficiency is paramount.

One leading indicator of a port’s efficiency is how quickly it’s able to move containers through the terminals to reduce dwell time. Even the largest ports have to shuffle around containers to transfer them to their final delivery destination, which isn’t always easy. Every time a truck shows up, the containers get shuffled around and it can be a very time-consuming process that hinders the efficiency of both the terminal and the trucker.

With longer dwell times, terminals are forced to store more containers, so if a trucker shows up to receive a container that’s at the bottom of the stack, well, they might be in for a long wait.

With shorter dwell times, however, terminals are storing fewer containers and are able to finish transactions more quickly.


What is the impact of dwell time?

As previously mentioned, dwell time is a function of operational efficiency. The more time wasted at a port or railyard the more money it’s costing someone. And there’s a lot that can go into this—poor communication, complex loads, high load volume, and inefficient procedures can all contribute to high dwell times. 

Something as simple as inefficient check-in procedures can waste time for truckers and cause a domino effect that may be difficult to overcome. Congestion is the worst symptom of any facility trying to offload containers. 

Here are some impacts that dwell time may cause.

Detention costs

Detention is charged when a truck driver arrives at a location and ends up having to wait to be loaded or unloaded. In most cases, carriers allow for some “free hours” per driver, but they will ultimately charge you an hourly rate after that time allotment is up. This is because drivers are still on duty when they’re forced to sit idle.

But if you think about it, drivers get paid by moving and delivering loads, not by sitting on them. Detention exists to help compensate them for losing their time and, therefore, money. To add gasoline to the fire, there are strict laws that limit how long a driver can dedicate to driving. This means time is lost for them—and they cannot work overtime to make up for it. 

Reduced industry capacity

Ultimately, higher dwell times negatively affect the total capacity of the entire shipping industry. Poor management of load volume issues leads to congestion or bottlenecks. For example, when a supplier is waiting for a shipment that’s delayed by long dwell times, all its retail customers suffer. 

Strained relationships

Being able to offer more shipping options gives a facility more power to satisfy customers. For facilities, having access to fewer shipping providers can be financially detrimental. Some shippers may not want to continue working with a company that doesn’t address inefficiencies. 

For example, a facility with communication problems may often send the wrong arrival times to truck drivers. The times the facility records on a schedule may vary and lead to unnecessary waiting. Such miscommunication trends quickly strain relationships. 

Environmental impact

Trucks idling unnecessarily for a long time can harm the environment. Today, many retailers and the consumers they serve are more conscious of environmental waste. Not addressing or eliminating such issues can harm a company's reputation.


As a DTC brand, it's not your responsibility to reduce dwell time. However, your customer's experience may be impacted. Identifying if this is a cause of your delivery delays is crucial.

How is dwell time calculated?

Obviously, logistics is a complicated space. If it were simpler, such issues wouldn’t exist. Nonetheless, there are some very specific ways to calculate elements of dwell time that can help operations managers reduce it. Or at least be able to report on what’s doing wrong.

Here are a few examples:

  • Average delay: Delay time per period divided by total load number per period.
  • Delay rate: Delayed arrivals divided by the total number of arrivals.
  • Compliance rate: Noncompliant loads divided by the total number of loads.
  • Appointment rate: The number of loads divided by the number of appointments.

Is it possible to reduce dwell time?

The short answer is, yes. But it's important to remember that there are several factors that cause increased dwell time. If your goal is to reduce dwell time, consider some of these solutions.


Appointments are critical to ensuring that everything is running on time. By staggering pick up times, shippers can keep their staff focused and reduce dwell times. When the schedule becomes too busy, shippers may want to consider using extended hours, such as weekends, to reduce congestion and make it easier to stick to a regular schedule.

Efficient check-in procedures

There should be a simple check-in procedure for arrivals to avoid creating bottlenecks. A paperless check-in process is much faster, less frustrating, and more accurate than having drivers fill out paperwork on-site. A lot of the paperwork can also be automated away with technology when using a paperless check-in process.

Detention Fees

A logical way to reconcile lost productivity and incentivize shippers to be on time is to charge hourly detention fees. While delays can still cause issues downstream, these fees can partially offset productivity losses for both drivers and carriers.


Do you need to reduce dwell time?

For ecommerce companies, it's essential to identify the causes of dwell time and how they impact your business. The information can help direct and strengthen your strategy and improve your bottom line. That's why it's important to partner with a team of professionals who can offer valuable solutions. With an optimized logistics strategy to improve efficiency, you can reduce losses tied to higher dwell times.



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