MISSISSAUGA, Ontario — Vancouver is facing a problem not unknown in the industry: truck moves in and out of its terminals during the day are creating growing congestion. But it’s not easy transitioning that traffic to nighttime gates because many truckers and cargo receivers only work during the day.
“They have to eliminate that daytime traffic. Everything works on a 24-hour cycle except the trucks, and having that many trucks during the day bogs all operations down, including the ship and rail loading and unloading,” said Ron Roberts, vice president of the ILWU Ship and Dock Foremen Local 514.
The issue came up at this week’s JOC Canada Maritime Conference. It seemed clear it is far from being resolved, and pressure is growing for a solution. Ruth Snowden, executive director of the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association, known as CIFFA, devoted a large segment of her opening address to the topic. “Container volumes have growing so rapidly that there are not enough daytime slots for truckers to come in and out with their containers,” she said.
“More night gates could help in Vancouver. The big question remains, will truckers utilize them? Will owner operators and independent truckers actually use the night gates?”
As one audience member remarked, the issue harks back to congestion the ports faced in handing off containers to railroads, where containers were sitting idle for up to nine days before moving inland. “The parties came together and found solutions, so we’re not talking about that today,” he said.
Snowden suggested the problem is reaching a crisis stage, with huge added costs stemming from delays, missed deliveries and demurrage and ocean carriers “reporting lost export bookings because drivers can’t get into the terminal.” CIFFA sent out a recent e-bulletin saying, "The level of frustration is ever-increasing. This is not only a problem for freight forwarders, shippers and their truckers, but for the industry as a whole.”
Some cargo is being rerouted through Seattle to avoid the congestion, she said. Snowden said the issue is partly one of differences between large and small shippers. Large ones such as major retailers are more able to afford to keep distribution centers open during off-hours to receive container shipments and therefore should bear a heavier burden to adjust to night hours at the terminals. “If big importers can stay open and receive cargo at night, it would free up day slots,” she said. She also said night hours must be regularly scheduled rather than occurring sporadically which makes it harder for truckers to adjust.
The port is well aware of the issues. As Port Metro Vancouver’s Katherine Bamford tweeted, the port is “working collaboratively with terminals, drayage, shipping lines (and) governments to develop truck gate solutions.”
Reflecting the difficult transition, terminals have tried night hours, but truckers haven’t shown up in large enough numbers. “TSI and DP World offered night gates in the past, on regular schedules,” said Roberts of the ILWU. “The termials offered these night gates in the past to try to spread that truck traffic to at least two shifts, but not enough trucks would show up at night, and any of the trucks that showed up would make only one trip.”
As the JOC’s Bill Mongelluzzo wrote on Nov. 1, “Canada’s busiest port appears to be at a crossroads similar to what Los Angeles-Long Beach, the largest U.S. port complex, faced seven years ago when terminal operators in Southern California established the PierPass extended gates solution.” That system imposed a fee on cargo interests if they used daytime gates, creating an incentive to move cargo to non-daytime hours. “I don’t know if that would work,” Snowden said.