Trucker appointment systems at marine terminals can be beneficial for both parties if the systems are flexible and managed objectively, according to a transportation economist.
An efficient appointment system helps the terminal operator achieve better utilization of labor and equipment by balancing the flow of truck arrivals throughout the work day. Harbor truckers benefit if long queues at terminal gates are eliminated and their turn times are shorter.
Philip Davies, principal at Davies and Associates Transportation Consulting in Vancouver, British Columbia, analyzed appoint systems at the ports of Vancouver, Long Beach, Sydney, Australia, and Southampton, England. He addressed the Metrans conference in Long Beach.
Terminal operators may establish a trucker appointment system in response to congestion issues, such as Southampton did in 2005, or due to political pressure or legislation, as occurred in Los Angeles-Long Beach several years ago.
Even with today's declining cargo volumes, terminal operators experience surges at their gates, based upon vessel arrivals. Generally, the transportation community has learned to live with these surges and tolerates a certain degree of terminal congestion.
However, if gate queues are serious and sustained, assigning gate times to truckers is one option for addressing the problem.
While well-managed appointment systems usually please truckers while benefiting the terminal operator, abuses can occur. Truckers may over-book appointments to assure favorable gate times, which compromises utilization of equipment and labor at the terminal and forces other truckers into less favorable time slots.
Some terminals address this problem by assessing fines for no-shows. Truckers generally accept the need for fines for no-shows, but they object when they are penalized for arriving late because of delays beyond their control, such as heavy traffic on the roadways. Truckers will also object to other fees such as peak-traffic surcharges.
Also, an appointment system gives the terminal operator a greater degree of authority over harbor truckers, and they may resent that, especially if there is a history of strained relations between the trucker and marine terminal industries, Davies said. Truckers will also object if motor carriers affiliated with the terminal operator receive preferential treatment, such as exclusive-use gates.
Total Terminals Inc. is the only marine terminal in Long Beach that has a mandatory appointment system today. Davies said the appointments have produced a significant improvement in terminal productivity and the trucking community is experiencing good turn times
While interest in appointment systems at U.S. terminals has ebbed during the global trade recession, they have become institutionalized in Sydney, Southampton and Vancouver.
Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at email@example.com.