After complaining about lengthy turn times at marine terminals for more than two years, motor carriers in Los Angeles-Long Beach say they expect to do something about the problem in 2012.
Truckers intend to use information technology and process changes to move trucks, and cargo, more quickly through the gates of the nation’s busiest port complex.
The Southern California ports are beginning 2012 with the same congestion problems they saw last year. “Turn times have never been worse,” said Fred Johring, president of the Harbor Trucking Association of Southern California.
Motor carrier executives say they are ready to take action now that studies have identified the reasons why long truck queues develop, the times of the day when delays are most likely to occur and specific container terminals where their drivers consistently experience long truck queues.
“In 2012, I want to do something with this group,” said Josh Owen, co-chairman of a harbor stakeholders’ organization that includes truckers, terminal operators and shippers.
A study sponsored by the Transportation Research Board concluded busy port complexes all experience long truck queues linked to vessel arrivals, marine terminal start and stop times and the “trouble tickets” truckers receive when they arrive with inaccurate or incomplete documentation.
The study of gate operations in Los Angeles-Long Beach, New York-New Jersey and Houston found truck queues occur at the beginning of a work shift and on days when vessels arrive in port. Trouble tickets can trigger delays of several hours as the terminal and truck dispatcher attempt to rectify the problem.
A study by the Southern California stakeholders’ group found some issues are specific to Los Angeles-Long Beach because of the large container volumes they handle, with some terminals handling the crush of traffic better than others. Truckers say the good terminals are always good and the bad terminals always bad, whereas terminal operators say busy terminals experience most of the problems while the not-so-busy terminals are the most fluid.
The study determined 58 percent of truck visits are processed in less than an hour, which truckers consider acceptable. However, 25 percent of the visits took more than 90 minutes, and 12 percent of the visits lasted two to four hours, which truckers say devastates their earning power.
Terminal operators in Los Angeles-Long Beach attempted to reduce daytime congestion by adding five night or weekend gates each week. They established PierPass to manage the program, which charges shippers a fee for weekday daytime moves. That has diverted about 40 percent of the truck calls to nights and weekends. An unintended consequence, however, is that truckers queue up for two hours or longer each afternoon, waiting for 6 p.m. when the fee is waived.
“The port community is still not taking advantage of all of the hours it has,” said Bruce Wargo, president of PierPass. Terminal operators have considered revisions, such as a staggered fee that could spread traffic out throughout the day, but they have yet to agree upon a strategy.
Federal hours-of-service limitations also uniquely affect Los Angeles-Long Beach. Although the terminals are open 16 hours a day, the safety regulation limits truckers to 11 hours of driving time. Many drivers work from early afternoon until 10 p.m., with terminals experiencing very light traffic before and after those times.
Ed DeNike, chief operating officer at terminal operator SSA Marine, said terminal operators want trucking companies to run two driver shifts that coincide with the terminals’ day and night shifts. “Until they change, they can’t criticize the terminals,” he said.
However, most drivers are independent owner-operators, so motor carrier executives can’t tell the drivers when to work. Setting specific work hours could lead to drivers being legally declared direct employees, which would create driver classification issues.
But harbor trucking companies believe they can improve working conditions through the use of information technology. Digital Geographic Research in the coming weeks will roll out an improved version of its LiveQ product that tracks gate conditions in the harbor.
Val Noronha, president, said the service would update gate conditions every five minutes. More than 200 trucks in Southern California are equipped with monitors under the program, and he hopes to increase the number to about 2,000. Truckers can use LiveQ to avoid terminals with long queues and proceed to terminals that aren’t congested, saving time and money and reducing pollution, Noronha said.
Some motor carriers are looking into a product being used overseas that electronically links terminals, truckers and shippers, said Vic LaRosa, president of TTSI, a drayage, truckload and less-than-truckload carrier in Rancho Dominguez, Calif. The system allows stakeholders to redirect drivers based on their location and the availability of containers for pickup. “You can make appointments almost on the fly,” he said.
Noronha said it was difficult the past two years to implement new processes and technologies because of the economic recession. Now, he said, all parties can implement improved processes before traffic returns to pre-recession levels, he said.