Port Metro Vancouver’s 14-point action plan to reduce truck wait times, improve terminal fluidity and ensure compensatory earnings for the approximately 1,700 drayage truck drivers that serve Canada’s largest container port is celebrating its two-year milestone with dramatically reduced turn times.
The complex but creative port drayage program is credited with having reduced the average truck visit time, from the queue outside the arrival gate until the trucker is processed through the out gate, to 38 minutes. During the tumultuous winter of 2013-14, truck visits of more than one hour were the rule. “This is a quantum shift in performance,” said Peter Xotta, the port’s vice president of planning and operations.
The rapid turn times provide a solid foundation for further development of the action plan, Xotta said. The key advancement that the port authority hopes to roll out by early 2017 will be a single electronic portal through which truckers will have visibility into container availability at each of the four container terminals.
Known as Common Data Interface, the portal will help terminals plan and assign their labor and equipment requirements to improve the delivery of containers to truckers. At the same time, CDI should enhance truckers’ revenue potential by making it easier to drop off outbound containers or empties and pick up inbound loads during each visit, a practice known as a dual transaction.
Xotta said that if the single portal works as envisioned, it will provide a model for major gateways throughout North America as they implement truck appointment systems. Maritime industry planners are increasingly emphasizing the importance of mandatory trucker appointment systems to make it possible for terminals to handle the ever-larger cargo surges from vessels with capacities as high as 18,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units.
It is fitting that Port Metro Vancouver on Canada’s Pacific coast has become a laboratory for innovation in harbor drayage. The port since 2005 has experienced two devastating strikes by drivers who deliver to and pick up containers at marine terminals. The second strike, from February to March 2014, resulted in a joint effort by the port, the Canadian federal government and the provincial government of British Columbia to address the root causes of driver unrest, which were port congestion and inadequate wages.
The 14-point action plan was announced on March 13, 2014, and implementation has continued in a phased manner since then. The plan includes a program in which terminals run five night gates each week, mandatory trucker appointments, a tiered fee paid by terminals for each trucker transaction that exceeds 90 minutes, minimum per-trip pay rates and an enforcement mechanism to penalize trucking companies that attempt to undercut the rates that are stipulated by the federal government.
The extended gates program coupled with mandatory appointments has succeeded in spreading out truck traffic over two shifts each weekday so long truck lines are pretty much a thing of the past, Xotta said. While the terminal operators last summer were still getting used to the plan, they paid a total of more than $1 million in penalties for truck visits that exceeded 90 minutes. However, the terminals have adjusted to the new regime and the penalties this year are way down, he said.
Most of the licensed motor carriers are complying with the government-mandated minimum rates, and therefore complaints by drivers about poor pay are fewer, he said. Nevertheless, there are still cases where some LMCs undercut the others on rates in order to attract business, and in the process short-change their drivers, and those cases are pursued by the provincial compliance commission, Xotta said.
Earlier this month a controversy arose when 10 motor carriers challenged a provision to pay drivers retroactively for wage increases that had been agreed upon in March 2014. Unifor, the union that represents some of the drayage truck drivers, immediately criticized the motor carriers’ lawsuit as an attempt to “take money out of truckers’ pockets.” It is now up to the court decide where problems arose due to ambiguity in the law, and where some companies were in fact short-changing the drivers.
In some areas, the 14-point action plan is still a work in progress, such as achieving the goal of reducing the number of truckers in the harbor so there will be a reasonable amount of work for the remaining truckers. The driver force stood at about 2,000 in 2014. The licenses that are necessary to drive in the harbor were reduced to 1,400, but several hundred were added last year, so the population is now about 1,700. Xotta said the port authority believes a tighter number is best for all concerned, but the matter is under consideration at the provincial level.
Therefore, although disagreements continue to arise, the once volatile drayage environment in Vancouver is marked today by “relative stability,” Xotta said.