Appointments speed port traffic

Appointments speed port traffic

A year after they introduced appointment systems for truckers at California ports, terminal operators are reporting faster turnaround times for truckers and that the systems help terminals to better manage their facilities.

"Appointment systems work," said Steve Longbotham, vice president of customer technology at Marine Terminals Corp., whose VoyagerTrack Premier Appointment System is used at five terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach and Oakland. Longbotham said 52 percent of the truckers who arrive at the ports to pick up loaded import containers now make appointments, compared with about 30 percent earlier in the year. For imports, which are the most-troublesome transactions, the percentage is even higher. At the big Long Beach terminal that Marine Terminals operates with Hanjin Shipping Co., 85 percent of imported containers in June were picked up by truckers with appointments.

Marine Terminals statistics also show that truckers with appointments have turnaround times on imports that are 15 to 18 minutes shorter than those of drivers who arrive without appointments.

But California's harbor trucking industry is not convinced that drivers benefit appreciably from appointment systems. "There's not much difference in turn times with or without an appointment," said Joe Nievez, president of Qwikway Trucking in Los Angeles.

Nievez suggests that one reason more truckers are making appointments at the Hanjin terminal is that cargo volumes at that terminal have soared this year through natural growth and because Marine Terminals Corp. took on additional business, such as rapidly growing China Shipping Container Line.

Under the California legislation that spawned the appointment systems last year, terminals can be fined $250 for each truck that isn't allowed to enter their gates within 30 minutes. Terminals are not fined for truckers who arrive without appointments.

As cargo volumes grow, drivers feel they will at least get into the terminals in less than 30 minutes if they make appointments, Nievez said. But he said there is no guarantee that they will get out of the terminals any faster than truckers who do not have appointments.

Harbor truckers in California continue to claim that terminal operators pushed for the appointment-system provision in the truck-idling legislation as a cheap way to avoid fines. Terminal operators say they want appointment systems to work not only because they are good for truckers but because they help terminals plan for truck volume.

EModal.com's Scheduler service helps terminals match their capacity to trucker demand and helps truckers select time slots at terminals that are best for them, said John Cushing, eModal.com president. He said the technology was developed with advice from truckers as well as terminal operators.

Cushing said trucking companies are using the appointment systems along with other electronic services that improve turnaround time - for example, by determining whether demurrage or Customs examination fees are due on a shipment. If fees are due, they can be paid electronically before the drivers arrive.

Marine Terminals views appointment systems as the foundation for a package of electronic services that terminals are offering to truckers to address the exceptions that are inevitable in the intermodal supply chain. Because the terminal systems are interactive, truckers can use them to close out most charges or provide necessary documentation so the container is ready to be picked up when the driver arrives at the facility.

Marine Terminals plans to reward those truckers who consistently make and keep appointments by offering to mount imported containers on chassis before the driver arrives, Longbotham said. This service would improve turnaround times even more, he said.

Trucking company executives said they would support appointment systems more if terminals pre-mounted containers on chassis. "That would be of interest to the trucking community because it adds value," said Patty Senecal, director of sales at Transport Express in Rancho Dominguez, Calif.

One major problem with appointment systems is that they guarantee only that a driver will get into the terminal in less than 30 minutes, Senecal said. It is common for drivers with appointments to pick up an imported container, to pass quickly through the gate with an empty container, only to wait an hour or longer for the terminal to process the empty before the driver can pick up the loaded inbound container. "Appointment systems are a work in progress," Senecal said. "By no means are they near their maturity."