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Seaport Activity

What quantity of goods are entering or exiting the Bay Area by sea?

Seaports play a crucial role in today’s globalized economy, serving as entry and exit points for billions of dollars’ worth of goods. While their primary role is to facilitate the movement of freight from producers to consumers, wherever those consumers may reside, the ports themselves are significant economic engines for the regions in which they are located. Ports compete against each other for shippers’ business, and an individual port’s success depends not only on the overall level of global trade but also on its unique competitive advantages, such as location or operational efficiency.

Updated: july 2022


Freight levels at the Port of Oakland have risen by 55% from 1998 to 2021


Approximately 2.4 million shipping containers (TEUs) passed through the Port of Oakland in 2021


the Port of Oakland moved the ninth-highest number of containers among major seaports in the United States in 2021


Regional Performance

Cargo activity at the Port of Oakland has been relatively constant in recent years.

The Port of Oakland, the region’s primary cargo seaport, has seen a gradual increase in the number of containers processed over the past decade, leading to record-high traffic in 2018. While container volumes dipped during the Great Recession and again in 2015 due to a labor dispute, container volume at the Port of Oakland has remained relatively constant in recent years. This is true even during COVID-19 when total container volume moving through the port remained virtually unchanged between 2020 and 2021.

While the Port of Oakland handles 99% of the containerized goods moving through Northern California, minor ports in the Bay Area each have a niche role in cargo movement. For example, the Port of Benicia has developed a specialty in cars and petrocoke, Redwood City in construction materials, Richmond in liquid bulk and cars, and San Francisco in dry bulk. The Port of San Francisco has recently included other maritime uses, such as hosting cruise ship calls.


The Port of Oakland handles 99% of the containerized goods moving through Northern California

Historical Trend for Seaport Activity — Port of Oakland

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National Context

The Port of Oakland is one of the nation’s largest ports, although it moves significantly less cargo than ports like Los Angeles-Long Beach and New York-New Jersey.

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the nation’s two busiest ports measured by the number of containers moving through the ports. These adjacent ports serve as the nation’s primary seaport, benefiting from proximity to major domestic West Coast markets and shorter shipping routes to Asia. On the East Coast, the Port of New York and New Jersey serves as the largest seaport - benefiting from the same advantages as the Southern California ports. As a result, a large share of goods destined for the Bay Area arrive in Los Angeles and are transported to the Bay Area by truck or by rail. In 2021, the Port of Oakland moved less than half of the containerized cargo than the nation’s busiest ports in Southern California, New York and Georgia.

During the COVID-19 pandemic many ports across the nation experienced a massive spike in container volume. For example, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach together moved 2.7 million more TEUs in 2021 than they did in 2020. The Port of Oakland, on the other hand, moved a relatively similar volume between 2020 and 2021.


In 2021, approximately 20 million shipping containers (TEUs) passed through the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach combined

Metro Comparison for Seaport Activity

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Sources & Methodology

Methodology Notes

Container volumes include both empty and full containers that move through a given port; they include imports, exports and domestic freight flows.

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The Vital Signs initiative is led by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

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