Some 5% of all gate transactions— 2,500 in all– are problematic at the ports
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Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach aim to speed up truck cargo turns

Jan. 10, 2013
Anti-congestion effort seeks to cut “transaction problems” at the ports

PierPass Inc. today announced an initiative to quicken turn times for trucks picking up or delivering freight containers at the marine terminals of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach by cutting down on the number of “transaction problems” experienced by truckers at the ports. PierPass is a nonprofit formed by marine terminal operators (MTOs) at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that addresses such multi-terminal issues as congestion, security and air quality.

The transaction problems— described as exceptions from normal processes that result in the issuance of “trouble tickets”-- lead to substantial delays in container movement through the terminals, according to Bruce Wargo, president of PierPass.

Wargo told FleetOwner that this “new initiative to identify with and improve on the trouble-ticket system [was prompted by] studying a national report that included the problem issued by the National Cooperative Freight Research Program” (NCFRP). “That study was very helpful and long overdue as we do not have a national freight policy” in the U.S.

“We took their findings into consideration and compared them to what we are experiencing at the Southern California ports we serve,” he continued, “by surveying terminal operators at the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports to find out the most common causes of trouble tickets. We found that the situation at the two adjacent ports matches what NCFRP found nationally.”

 About 5% of all transactions at port terminals in the U.S. result in trouble tickets, which on average add about an hour to the “turn time,” the amount of time a truck spends at a terminal, according to the 2011 NCFRP.

The national report also found that “exceptions from normal processes [are] a major source of delay and cost. The long ‘tails’ on the turn time data, in particular, suggest that around 5% of the cases consume much more than the ‘normal’ time and expense.”

Most trouble tickets can be prevented through better communications before a truck arrives at the terminal gates, the NCFRP report advised.

NCFRP also discovered that better procedures by trucking companies can reduce trouble tickets. It noted that less experienced drivers and trucking companies that don’t regularly serve the ports generate exceptions and receive trouble tickets much more frequently than regular port visitors. Drivers making an average of at least one call per day had only a 3.0% trouble ticket rate. vs. 7.8% for those making less than one call per week, the report found.

While trouble tickets result from a range of issues, Wargo pointed out that they usually are tied to inaccurate or incomplete information about an import container delivery or an export booking problem.

He said that once a trouble ticket is issued, the truck driver typically has to go to a “trouble window” or office to get it resolved, resulting in delays for customers and truckers as well as higher costs for terminal operators.

“Trucking companies can avoid most trouble tickets and reduce turn times by checking with the terminals’ web-based systems before coming to the terminal gates,” pointed out Wargo. “These systems let dispatchers confirm the availability of import containers or the validity of export booking numbers before prematurely sending a truck to the terminal.”

At the APL Terminal in the Port of Los Angeles, according to Wargo, the largest group of trouble tickets (34%) in July and August 2012 were issued when truckers arrived to pick up containers that were “on hold.” He said containers can be put on hold for a variety of reasons including U.S. Customs release, agricultural inspection and unpaid steamship charges or Traffic Mitigation Fees.

The second-largest group (20%) was due to the container number not matching the number on the bill of lading, which can also be checked online before delivering a container.

Wargo pointed out that, in total, about 5% of all gate transactions—which amounts to 2,500 in all– ended up at the trouble window. And per APL, 65% of all trouble tickets during that period could have been resolved before the truck came to the terminal.

In 2011, the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, terminals and trucking providers published the first comprehensive turn-time study at the ports using GPS technology. It found that the median turn time inside the terminals during the period studied was 31 minutes per visit and that 88% of trucks took less than 2 hours per visit.

The GPS study also found

  • The median time trucks spent in queue waiting to get into the gates was 20 minutes and the terminal time 31 minutes, for a total visit time of 51 minutes
  • While some have implied that it is typical to wait three hours to get into a terminal, but the study showed that only 9% of queue waits were more than an hour
  • Only 3% of the visits took three hours or more, including queue time and terminal time

Wargo noted that the MTOs belonging to PierPass continue to offer night-gate operations to help address container demand and traffic mitigation. He said terminals are currently offering 55 “OffPeak” gates across 13 terminals in addition to 65 daytime gates, for a total of 120 gates per week for cargo P&D.

What’s more, under the PierPass agreement, all international container terminals in the two ports operate four to five additional shifts per week. As an incentive to use the new OffPeak shifts and to help cover the added cost of the shifts, a Traffic Mitigation Fee (TMF) is required for most cargo movement during peak hours (Monday through Friday, 3 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

 “We are taking a lead [nationally] on improving truck turn times and reducing trouble tickets is a key aspect,” Wargo told FleetOwner. He said PierPass’s initiative is significant beyond given that the 13 MTOs of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach account for 40% of the marine container traffic in the U.S.

The trouble-ticket initiative to combat truck congestion at the ports launched today will be multi-pronged, said Wargo. “Our effort will include educating [truck operators] on the issue and reaching out directly to those trucking companies having the most problems [with turn times]. And eventually, we hope to deploy new technology” to help combat the causes of trouble tickets being issued.

He said that PierPass is kicking off the initiative by distributing a fact sheet to trucking companies with tips on trouble-ticket prevention.

PierPass has also uploaded a YouTube video in which stakeholders representing terminal operators, trucking companies and the ports discuss approaches to reducing trouble tickets.

“We also intend to issue a report in six or so months on our study of the trouble-ticket situation and present with it what we believe are detailed solutions to this issue,” Wargo told FleetOwner.

The West Coast Marine Terminal Operator Agreement that PierPass operates under is filed with the Federal Maritime Commission and comprises the 13 international MTOs serving the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

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