Agriculture shippers pressed to help boost truck turn times

Agriculture shippers pressed to help boost truck turn times

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest US port complex, processes about 60,000 truck moves each day. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.

Drayage operators urged agricultural shippers to help their industry increase the use of street turns, improve chassis pool efficiency, and share information electronically through port portals in order to improve truck turn times at marine terminals and rail hubs.

Los Angeles-Long Beach, the largest US port complex, processes about 60,000 truck moves each day, said Gene Seroka, executive director in Los Angeles. The process improvements supported by truckers are in various stages of implementation, but the ports and truckers need the assistance of beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) to achieve meaningful results.

“We’re not moving fast enough,” Seroka told the annual conference of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC) in Tacoma June 13. “We need you to help get everyone on board.”

Peter Schneider, executive vice president of T.G.S. Transportation, which has drayage operations in Northern and Southern California, has participated in supply chain innovation and port competitiveness efforts sponsored by the Federal Maritime Commission and US Department of Commerce. The message from these meetings is that drayage operators at many ports and rail hubs face similar congestion problems, and although the technology to make things better is readily available, inertia is preventing meaningful action, Schneider said.

Push for port portals

He cited efforts by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to establish a portwide portal through which each sector of the supply chain would provide key data points on shipments and in return share real-time information on container arrivals and availability through a single window. Schneider supports the effort, but after two years of plodding along, the harbor complex lacks a single portal.

“There are more than 33 websites in LA-Long Beach, instead of one portwide portal,” he said.

Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, said the port portal would give a major boost to drayage operators in Southern California by pushing shipment information to them, thus relieving truckers of the need to query multiple websites in search of updates.

“We don’t want to go to any websites,” he said. “We want the terminals to come to us.”

A nationwide driver shortage is making life difficult for drayage operators at ports and rail hubs, said Ken Kellaway, president of RoadOne. “This problem won’t go away,” he said.

The industry last year “powered through” the immediate crisis that resulted from the federal electronic logging device implementation, but drayage operators everywhere continue to be plagued by empty backhauls that rob drivers of two-way productivity, “Forty-two percent of the miles are empty miles, so we’re focusing on street turns. It’s one of the last frontiers,” Kellaway said.

Matchbacks improve trucker productivity

As in many sectors of the logistics chain, technology is available to enhance matchbacks, a basic concept that involves matching an inbound container that is unloaded at an import warehouse with an exporter in the region who needs an empty container for the outbound shipment, thus avoiding the drayage of the empty container back to the port. Reade Kidd, president of eDray, said the collaborative destination management platform is in use at ports on both coasts and is now in operation at Union Pacific and BNSF rail ramps in the Chicago area to foster increased street turns.

Trucker interests and BCOs this year have called out those ocean carriers who instituted an “administrative fee” on their containers that are involved in street turns, saying the lines should not make it more costly to participate in a logistics innovation that improves terminal and rail productivity.

“It’s ludicrous what they’re doing,” Schneider said. Peter Friedmann, executive director of AgTC, said that charging truckers and BCOs for street turns “was probably developed by some finance guy who has no understanding of operations.”

Major gateways including Virginia, New York-New Jersey, the South Atlantic ports, and Los Angeles-Long Beach are in varying stages of developing “grey” chassis pools to which chassis providers contribute equipment. Since the equipment is interoperable, truckers can use any chassis to carry any container. Without the pools, truckers waste time by returning bare chassis to their origination points and then pick up chassis from another provider to move a load.

Kellaway said pools are often criticized when problems arise, such as occurred last winter in Southern California when warehouses were overwhelmed by front-loaded shipments precipitated by the Trump administration’s tariff war with China.

“The pool of pools is working. I’d love to see it in the Northeast,” he said. “The more consolidated chassis pools we can get, the better. We can’t have drivers repositioning chassis.”

Kellaway added that as rail carriers move relentlessly toward “precision railroading,” which involves reducing origin-destination pairs to cut costs, process improvements such as street turns and consolidated chassis pools will be needed to offset the residual impact of railroads “doing less with less.”

Removing chassis from the terminals

Los Angeles and Long Beach for the past two years have been developing a strategy for removing chassis from marine terminals. LaBar said that in addition to freeing up limited waterfront property that could be better used for cargo-handling, moving chassis to near-dock sites would make it easier for truckers to show up at the 12 marine terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach, with trucker-owned chassis or pool chassis, thus negating the need to go to the terminal’s chassis pit.

“Turn times are 50 percent faster with trucker chassis,” he said. “The 60-minute turn time goes down to 30 minutes.”

LaBar cited the automated Middle Harbor facility operated by Long Beach Container Terminal (LBCT), which has no chassis on dock. Truckers pick up their chassis at a nearby yard.

LBCT is the gold standard for what a terminal should look like, with 52 minutes for dual transactions and less than 2 percent trouble window transactions,” he said. “They exceed my standards.”

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at bill.mongelluzzo@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @billmongelluzzo.