Visualizing Congestion at America’s Busiest Port


This post is by Marcus Lu from Visual Capitalist


America's Busiest Port

The Briefing

  • There are an estimated 540,000 shipping containers waiting in queue at the Port of Los Angeles
  • The port has been unable to keep up with increased shipments from overseas suppliers

The Busiest Port in America: Los Angeles

U.S. e-commerce grew by 32.4% in 2020—the highest annual growth rate in over two decades. Such rapid growth has resulted in many more goods being imported, leaving America’s western ports completely overwhelmed.

To help you understand the scale of this issue, we’ve visualized the number of containers waiting at sea in relation to the Port of Los Angeles’ daily processing capacity.

Stuck at Sea

As of November 2, 2021, the Port of Los Angeles reported that it had 93 vessels waiting in queue. Altogether, these ships have a maximum carrying capacity of roughly 540,000 containers (commonly measured in twenty-foot equivalent units or TEUs).

On the other side of the equation, the port processed 468,059 import containers in September (the most recent data at the time of writing). Because the port does not operate on Sundays, we can conclude that the port can load roughly 18,000 containers each day.

That capacity seems unlikely to reduce the congestion. Over a two-week timeframe in September, 407,695 containers arrived at the Port of Los Angeles, which averages to around 29,000 containers arriving each day.

FigureApproximate Number of Containers
Current backlog540,000
Daily import arrivals29,000
Daily import capacity18,000
Daily increase in backlog11,000

What’s Being Done?

Solutions are needed to prevent the backlog (Read more...)