Port Throughput Metrics

Port throughput can be measured from different perspectives. For example, throughput could be measured by the amount of cargo or the number of vessels that a port handles over time. Port throughput is affected by many variables beyond physical capacity, such as:
  • the volume of international or domestic cargo,
  • competition between ports,
  • contractual arrangements with shipping lines,
  • disruptions caused by extreme weather (e.g., hurricanes), and
  • connections to inland origins and destinations.
Most coastal ports handle both domestic and international cargo carried on oceangoing vessels, while inland ports (e.g., the ports of St. Louis, Cincinnati, Huntington, Mid-America, and Pittsburgh) almost exclusively handle domestic cargo moved on barges.
The throughput measures included in this program are summarized below. Vessel dwell times are captured monthly, the food and farm products indices quarterly, and all other throughput measures annually in the Port Profiles. Annual data may mask seasonal variations in cargo flows that place periodic stress on available port capacity.