Harbor trucking companies in Southern California in March plan to release the results of a study of turnaround times at the 14 container terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach harbor. For some terminals, the results aren’t likely to be pretty.
Cargo interests support the study, sponsored by the Harbor Trucking Association, because beneficial cargo owners often must reimburse truckers for lengthy wait times at the terminals, said Alex Cherin, the association’s executive director.
BCOs are pushing for accurate data on which container terminals regularly generate acceptable turn times of an hour or less, and which are not. “They’re anxiously awaiting the results,” Cherin said.
The study underscores the push for accurate data sweeping through all facets of the supply chain as shippers, carriers and third-party logistics providers pursue maximum visibility that can impact everything from equipment deployment to pricing and that, ultimately, delivers cost reductions that feed down to the bottom line.
In performing the March study, Los Angeles consulting firm E2 Manage Tech will collect data on about 2,000 trucks operating in North America’s largest port complex. The study will measure queue times outside the terminal gates as well as visit times within the terminals, and will break down data for loaded containers, empty containers and equipment-only returns.
Harbor truckers aren’t pleased with another study performed in 2011 that measures only the time truckers spent within the terminal gates and disregarded the queue times outside the gates, Cherin said. Overall turn times in the harbor haven’t improved since that study was published, he added.
PierPass Inc., created by the terminal operators in 2005 to respond to harbor congestion and to manage a portwide program to extend the hours of operation for gates, is working with the terminals to improve trucker turn times, CEO Bruce Wargo said.
PierPass recently launched an education program on what terminal operators believe is the main cause of delays: the prevalence of “trouble tickets” issued to drivers who arrive with inaccurate or incomplete shipping documentation, or unpaid charges.
A trouble ticket can extend what should be an hour visit to a delay of three or four hours, Wargo said. Dealing with trouble tickets results in collateral damage for other truckers calling at the terminal, he added. About 5 percent of all truck visits, or 1,500 trucks a day, end up at the trouble windows. These visits skew the average wait times for the entire truck population, he said.
PierPass has distributed information packets to truckers and airs a video on its Web site, www.pierpass.org, on how to avoid trouble tickets. A majority of the cases could be avoided if trucking companies and their BCO customers communicated better with the terminals before sending their drivers to the harbor, Wargo said.
Another problem plaguing U.S. container ports is that BCOs tend to send their trucks to the harbor at predictable times: when the terminals open in the morning and reopen after the lunch break.
In Los Angeles-Long Beach, the 6 p.m. night shift, when terminals no longer charge the PierPass traffic mitigation fee in place during peak daytime hours, is a major cause of queuing. Truckers begin lining up at 4 p.m. to avoid the $61.50 per 20-foot container fee, Wargo said.
Harbor truckers, although agreeing that these events cause delays, said some terminals maintain consistently good turn times, while some terminals almost always have long lines of trucks. “Are the terminals avoiding the real reasons why the delays continue?” Cherin said.
The study will publish turn times for the efficient terminals while shining a light on the inefficient ones, Cherin said. The purpose of this effort isn’t to shame the slow terminals, but rather to help the industry understand what best practices are available to improve turn times for everyone, he added.
The HTA hasn’t decided if it will make the results of the study public or share them only with key stakeholders. However, the study will be updated each month to determine if progress is being made.
The study also should provide guidance on other issues facing truckers, including delays resulting from the move by ocean carriers to cease supplying chassis to truckers, and the problem of split moves, in which the container is returned to one location and the chassis to another.
The study also may help stakeholders determine if the four trucker appointment systems in the harbor are working, or if a single portwide “dynamic” appointment system that allows appointments to be changed on the fly might be more efficient.