Drayage vs. Cartage: What are the differences?

When businesses are searching for the most efficient method to move their freight, they are often forced to consider both drayage and cartage. While both cartage and drayage fill similar roles in the supply chain, they are two distinct services. To settle the debate of cartage vs drayage, let’s examine the definitions of each transportation strategy and the differences between the two. 

What does drayage mean?

Drayage is a method for hauling freight in containers over short distances. The term ‘drayage’ can also be used to describe the short trip used to move a container between the port and a nearby facility. 

In freight drayage, a chassis truck drives to the port and picks up the container filled with the cargo. A chassis truck is a specific kind of truck that has a flatbed made for carrying containers. 

Once the drayage truck picks up the container, it travels a short distance, defined as 250 miles or less. Without handling the cargo, the truck brings the container to a warehouse or distribution center. 

Once the freight arrives at the destination, the drayage segment of the journey is complete. Although there are a variety of exceptions, the general rule is that any travel the freight makes after drayage is considered a normal freight shipment. 

The Pros and Cons of Drayage

The major advantage of drayage is that the freight is minimally handled. The freight will likely not be handled from the time that it is loaded into a ship, train, or airplane. It is also beneficial because it helps move freight out of the port, eliminates congestion, and accelerates the flow of freight through the supply chain. 

Because drayage involves transporting a full container of cargo, the internal contents of the container cannot be separated and redirected to a variety of destinations. If you are moving cargo to a singular destination, this factor may not be a relevant disadvantage. 

What does cartage mean?

Cartage is a method for moving freight from a container to multiple destinations within a specific area. In cartage, the contents of a container are separated and loaded onto different, outgoing trucks for distribution at several different facilities. 

When the container is received, it is opened and all of the contents are dispersed and loaded onto small trucks. These smaller shipments are considered less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments because the cargo will likely not fill the load of each truck. 

Depending on how the freight is broken down, the cartage vehicles may be box trucks, 18-wheelers, or vans. These smaller trucks typically deliver shipments around cities or larger metropolitan areas. 

What are the differences between drayage and cartage services?

Cartage is helpful and necessary for delivering goods within cities or metropolitan areas where larger trucks are not allowed. Cartage is also a great option when the volume of cargo from each shipper, for each destination will not fill an entire load. 

Cartage involves an increase in freight handling. The more freight needs to be handled, the greater the risk is for loss or damage. The best freight logistics companies are experts at mitigating these risks. The other potential downside to cartage is that the method requires a large number of drivers. In the best of circumstances, LTL shipments can consist of optimized combinations of shipments on a single load, so as to use fewer drivers. 

Differences Between Drayage and Cartage in Trucking

When comparing drayage vs cartage, there are a few important differences. 

Cargo Handling

The major distinction is the way in which cargo is handled once it reaches the port. With drayage, an entire container is driven over a short distance. The cargo inside the container is not handled. With cartage, a container shipment is separated into multiple loads for delivery by truck.  


Drayage is classified under the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) guidelines, and cartage is not. The IANA classifies drayage into six categories including pier drayage, expedited drayage, shuttle drayage, door-to-door drayage, inter-carrier drayage, and intra-carrier drayage. 


When a container is traveling via drayage, a bill of lading outlines the critical information that describes the shipment, identifies the shipper, and authorizes the destination to receive the container. When cargo is traveling via cartage, the official document is the cartage advice that contains the type, quantity, and destination of the items being transported. 

How to Choose Between Drayage and Cartage

Choosing between drayage and cartage is a significant decision that needs to be based on the specifications of each shipment. Whether your load requires drayage or cartage, it is critical that your cargo is shipped safely and efficiently. 

First Star Logistics is a unique asset-based global logistics provider with over 60 years of experience. As an industry leader and innovator, First Star Logistics is an expert at ensuring cargo arrives on time, in perfect condition, and at the best possible rate. For all of your drayage and cartage needs, contact First Star Logistics today!