ATS Transportation Blog

What is First-Come-First-Serve (FCFS) in Freight Shipping Logistics?

Double drop trailer oversized freight shipment

The pricing structure in the freight shipping industry is complex. The price you pay to move your freight is subject to many variables and — in some cases — first-come-first-serve (FCFS) is one such factor. 

This article will round out your knowledge of what first-come-first-serve truly means in freight shipping and how it impacts your shipments. 

Here at ATS, we’ve been working with shippers and receivers for more than 65 years during which time we’ve worked with first-come-first-serve facilities around the nation. As such, we understand FCFS and how important this warehouse/facility operations process is to the overall trucking industry. 

In this blog we’ll tell you:

  • What first-come-first-serve is
  • What makes first-come-first-serve possible for the organizations that offer it
  • What first-come-first-serve means for truck drivers
  • How first-come-first-serve impacts shipping price

What is First-Come-First-Serve?

In the trucking industry, first-come-first-serve (FCFS) refers to the process of loading/offloading freight following a truck driver’s arrival at the pickup/drop-off site. 

In most instances, carriers are presented a shipment with the recognition that they will either: 

  1. Need to arrive by an exact time to appointment-based facilities on the front/back end. 
  2. Be loaded/offloaded based on their order of arrival at the facility.

In the instance of FCFS, drivers are laden with commodities in the order in which they arrive at the facility. The companies who offer first-come-first-serve picks/drops typically have the resources to load these trucks with steadfast efficiency.

If FCFS efficiency can be achieved on the part of the shipper/consignee, carriers are given greater control over their timing than if they had to plan for a scheduled appointment at either end. 

As such — when done correctly — this practice of having open pickup/delivery scheduling can become highly valuable for drivers and the parties who offer it. 

The Downside of FCFS 

First-come-first-serve is exactly as it sounds. The first truck to show up gets loaded first, those arriving later must wait. 

Although first-come-first-serve offers drivers the ability to arrive at any moment within the shipper/receiver’s allotted FCFS timeframe, and shippers/receivers are sometimes able to quickly and efficiently transport/receive their product, this isn’t always the case.

Many times, drivers are forced to wait for extended periods at these FCFS facilities. This is the case when congestion at these facilities— due to numerous other trucks arriving first — forces drivers to wait in a long line.

Note, the facilities that offer first-come-first-serve pickup/drop-off services do so within scheduled time-frames. This time frame varies from company to company so it’s also important to work with your transportation provider and ensure that you understand these windows.

Flatbed freight shipment

How Do Organizations Offer First-Come-First-Serve?

FCFS is usually utilized by companies that operate with any combination of these two characteristics:

  1. Shippers/Receivers that have skilled FCFS workers to handle freight
  2. Shippers/Receivers that have ample yard/dock space

1. Shippers/Receivers That Employ Skilled Workers Trained in the FCFS System

Some companies — that move and receive goods with frequency — employ full-time highly-skilled workers like crane operators, forklift drivers and yard jockeys to handle freight as soon as its truck arrives. 

These workers are skilled in the first-come-first-serve system and know how to handle, organize and load/offload freight as it comes/goes without an appointment. 

On the shipper’s side, these workers locate and load trucks with the appropriate freight promptly and correctly. On the receiver’s end, these workers serve to unload and relocate the shipment, getting it where it needs to go whenever it needs to get there. 

Organizations with these manpower resources can often make first-come-first-serve work for their business model. 

2. Shippers/Receivers That Have Ample Yard/Dock Space

Another characteristic that helps to make FCFS feasible for a company is if they possess a large amount of loading yard/dock space. 

Since FCFS means that drivers can arrive with freight at any time during these scheduled openings, having plenty of room for multiple trucks to maneuver is key. 

These companies can efficiently load/unload trucks and don’t need to worry about prolonged loading/unloading times due to congestion in these areas holding them hostage and costing them money. 

For shippers/receivers that possess the necessary “elbow room” FCFS is a system that can save them time and money.

First-Come-First-Serve’s Impact on Truck Drivers

The impact first-come-first-serve has on truck drivers varies depending on the situation

On the one hand, tuckers are a group of essential workers that operate under highly specific legal constraints. According to mandates by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), commercial motor carriers are only allowed to be in operation for 14 straight hours in 24 hours. 

This “clock” starts as soon as they start their truck in the morning and ends exactly 14 hours later. These boundaries are highly constrictive and easily monitored — especially with the widespread adoption of electronic logging devices. 

Since truckers face these time constraints, they’re always looking for ways to become more efficient with their allotted time. First-come-first-serve facilities, when operating correctly, can help truck drivers take more control of their scheduling. 

This is especially true when truckers are the first in line for loading when they arrive.

On the flip side, if a driver isn’t the first to arrive, their scheduling can quickly get out of hand as they wait for the countless trucks ahead of them.

As such, first-come-first-serve, although good for drivers in the sense that they can schedule deliveries outside of a set time slot, can also be damaging when FCFS facilities become over-congested. 

semi truck parked on the side of highwayHow Does First-Come-First-Serve Impact Shipping Price?

It’s difficult to generalize how FCFS impacts shipping prices on the whole. This, once again, comes down to the efficiency with which FCFS is employed by each facility and each driver’s experience with FCFS facilities previously.

Since truckers don’t have to hold onto, or sit on, a load after it’s received — to meet an appointment time on the back end — FCFS can give them greater control over their schedule. This means that for the most part, shipments that will be serviced at a first-come-first-serve location — at either end — make it easier to find willing carriers to move them. 

In turn, this increased control for the carrier can lead to greater interest from the overall transportation market. As interest and willingness increase, often shipping prices — based on the balance between the supply of willing/able carriers and the demand for their services — can decrease. 

You shouldn’t expect this though. Often, congestion at these facilities is damaging to truckers as they seek to maximize their on-duty hours and move as much freight as possible. 

As such, bad experiences with FCFS operations in the past can discourage truckers from interacting with one again. Which makes them less apt to service a FCFS shipment at lower price points. 

How You Can Utilize First-Come-First-Serve 

First-come-first-serve, when done correctly, can benefit truck drivers and — in turn — even the price you pay for your shipment.

To decide if FCFS is right for you, make sure to take stock of your individual needs and whether you have the resources, processes in place and overall wherewithal to offer this option for your shipments. 

Pivoting your process away from appointment-based scheduling to FCFS could make an impact on your bottom line and the success of your supply chain especially if you’re able to do so efficiently. 

Although every shipment is different and you may only be able to offer FCFS on occasion, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. The better you get, the quicker you’ll be able to load trucks and the quicker you load trucks, the more desirable transporting your freight will become. 

The next step in your shipping journey is to develop a comprehensive understanding of how loading times impact the price you pay for your shipments. From overtime pay to accessorial charges, can prolonged loading times really come back to bite you? We’ll tell you all you need to know here.

Tags: Freight Brokerage, Specialized Flatbed Shipping, Project Logistics, Dry Van Shipping, Terminology

Brandon Voigt

Written by Brandon Voigt

As a sales representative for ATS Logistics, Brandon provides worldwide transportation solutions to current customers and new customers — specializing in spot quotes for dry vans, refrigerated shipping, open deck shipping and more. He also provides a customizable approach to assist with every problem his book of business brings to him by working closely with his peers.

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