An image of a sunset at the port of Oakland, displaying six industrial cranes at a distance.

Port of Oakland: Everything you Need to Know

Photo by Ronan Furuta for Unsplash

When you think of Oakland, odds are you ignore its port. Being a large city in the Bay Area, it’s more closely linked to entrepreneurship or even the UC Berkeley campus in a neighboring city.  However, its international port is one of the most important in the region, and begs further exploration.

Given its strategic location along the US West Coast, the Port of Oakland serves as a crucial entry for trade with Asia, with over 70% of all TEUs handled came from the region. Even in a state like California, that boasts of having the two largest ports in the US (Los Angeles and Long Beach), the port of Oakland has steadily earned its spot as an artery for products to the northern half of the state. In fact, it is estimated that, in 2023, roughly 99% of containerized goods moving through Northern California arrived at the port.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that, in 2023 it ranked as the 9th largest in North America and 8th largest in the country, as well as the 4th largest in the West Coast.

Given its importance, we at Auba put together a list of the most important statistics about the port and its true impact on the US economy.

Where is the Port of Oakland Located?

The Port of Oakland is located on the Eastern Coast of the San Francisco Bay, little over a mile away from downtown Oakland. In total, the Oakland port authority manages over 20 miles of waterfront area, which currently contain four shipping terminals with 34 industrial cranes for the management of shipping containers. Within those terminals, there are spots used by 17 shipping companies, including some of the largest in the world such as MSC, Hapag-Lloyd, and Cosco.

How Many TEUs Can the Port of Oakland Handle?

The specific number of TEUs—a common metric for containers—handled by the Port of Oakland varies year to year. In our most recent report (The State of North American Ports by Auba), we found that the port handled over 2.06 million TEUs in 2023 alone.

Port of Oakland: Total TEUs Handled Over Time

A bar graph showing the number of TEUs handled at the Port of Oakland between 2018 and 2023.

(Data from Auba)

Over the last six years, the port exhibited a mild growth pattern before plateauing in 2021—surprisingly, showing no anomalies in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world. By 2022, it recorded a historic increase from little over 1.9 million TEUs to above 2.3 million. However, the following year, TEUs handled dropped back to 2.06 million—a contraction of 12% in TEU handling. Even then, across the six year period examined, we do notice a general increase in TEUs with a growth rate fo 10% between 2018 and 2023.

What does the Port of Oakland do?

As all container ports, the Port of Oakland is designed to load and unload cargo from container ships. To do so, the port has a large network of industrial cranes capable of carrying multimodal shipping containers, as a network of rail stations that enable a smooth transition of cargo from ship to train.

More specifically, the Port of Oakland serves as a crucial destination for international trade, with a clear focus on trans-pacific trade. As of May, 2024, 74% of all containers handled in the port came from Asia. The second place was taken by European cargo, which accounted for 17% of all trade, followed by trade with Oceania (Australia and other Pacific islands) equivalent to 3% of the total. Just 5% of trade in the port came from domestic trade. 

Exports by Category in the Port of Oakland (2024)

A pie chart showing the mane trade regions that interacted with the Port of Oakland as of May 2024.

(Data from the Port of Oakland)

While we lack specific data on the materials imported from the port of Oakland, the port’s governing authority has broadly specified that the port has focused on exporting a number of agricultural products such as fruits, nuts, and different kinds of meats. This is not surprising when considering the port’s close proximity with California’s Central Valley, which produces close to 25% of all fruits, and nuts of the US.

How Efficient is the Port of Oakland?

Efficiency is difficult to measure when it comes to ports like Oakland. A good approximation, albeit centered around containers, is to look at the number of containers that arrive empty at a port and compare them to the number of containers that arrive full of cargo. With this logic in mind, efficiency can be defined as the best use of containers ensuring they rarely arrive empty to the port. Then, a highly efficient port is one where shipping companies can easily replace cargo inside of their containers without having to transport empty containers elsewhere.

To measure this value, we designed a metric called the “inefficiency rate” which is just the ratio of empty over full containers handled by a port in a year. A score close or above to 1 in this metric implies that the port is inefficient, handling the same or greater number of empty TEUs as compared to full TEUs. A score closer to cero, on the other hand, represents a more efficient port where empty containers represent a minor occurrence.

In the case of Oakland, we found, initially, a low degree of inefficiency with a score of just 0.03 between 2018 and 2021. However, in 2022 and 2023, the number jumped dramatically to 0.33 and 0.31—the most recent years for which data is available. This jump could well be the result of misreporting by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which we used for earlier years of our dataset. Later years, in turn, use data from the ports themselves. Thus, it is likely that Oakland’s true inefficiency ratio is closer to 0.3 than 0.03. These new figures, however, remain relatively low when compared to other ports. For reference, the largest port in the US—the port of Los Angeles—has an inefficiency ratio of 0.45.

Inefficiency Ratio Over Time: Port of Oakland

A line graph showing the ratio of empty TEUs handled at the port of Oakland over full TEUs between 2018 and 2023.

(Data from Auba)

How does the Port of Oakland Compare to Other Ports? 

The port of Oakland remains crucial to the US and the Americas as a whole—not to mention Northern California, where it handles upwards of 99% of all container trade. In total, it handles 3.28% of all containers in North America, and little above 4% of all US trade. As a result, we found that the port is the 9th largest in the region and 8th largest in the US, comparable to the ports of Manzanillo in Mexico and Charleston in South Carolina. However, it is worth noting that Oakland is far from being one of the largest ports in North America and its total TEUs in 2023 only accounted for about 23.9% of those handled by the port of Los Angeles (the largest in the US).

Top 30 Ports in North America by TEUs Handled (2023)

A bar graph showing the TEUs imported in 2023 amongst the largest ports in North America.

(Data from Auba)