An appointment-based system for trucks picking up containers at the Port of Los Angeles and Port Long Beach has been a success, said PierPass, which manages the system for the West Coast Marine Terminal Operators Agreements (WCMTOA), whose members operate the 12 container terminals at the port.
It is one year since appointments have been mandated for draymen retrieving import containers by all terminals in the two ports, under what is informally called “PierPass 2.0.”
The purpose of the appointments is to relieve congestion at the ports and surrounding roads by spreading out port traffic throughout the day and the night.
In the past appointments were not required, but shippers were incentivized to have their truckers pick up containers at night by waiving a $72.09 per TEU traffic mitigation fee that was charged on cargo picked up during the day.
With the switch to PierPass 2.0, WCMTOA is now charging a flat fee of $31.52 per TEU (or a maximum of $63.04 on larger containers), no matter when a trucker comes to a terminal. Empty containers, intermodal rail cargo, domestic cargo and transshipped cargo are exempt from the fee.
Before PierPass 2.0, trucks would commonly line-up at the entrance to container terminals between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to be among the first to enter the terminals when the lower traffic mitigation fee went into effect.
With the off-peak discount eliminated, PierPass says “long late-afternoon queues at the entrance terminals have been eliminated, and ample appointment opportunities are available for each container. On average, port terminals are offering about one-third more appointment slots than there are containers to be picked up.”
PierPass says “terminals have also been working with the trucking community and other stakeholders to add new types of appointment-based services to help truckers achieve greater efficiency, taking advantage of the scalability and flexibility they gained by switching to an appointment-based system.”
“Terminals continue offering at least two peak shift and two off-peak shift appointments for each container prior to free time expiration, providing multiple options for each pickup,” said John Cushing, president and chief executive officer of PierPass. “Over the past year, many terminals have also introduced new services. All of this gives the cargo community an enhanced traffic mitigation system, which is running smoothly one year in.”
Because the terminals no longer operate on a “random access” basis, in which a trucker may be arriving to pick up any container at the terminal, Cushing says terminals are able to operate more efficiently, concentrating the workforce on a group of containers for which truckers have made an appointment to retrieve in a certain time period.
In addition to the requirement for appointments to pick up imports, PierPass says eight terminals have also begun offering appointments for dropping off export and empty containers. These services make it easier to arrange dual transactions in which truckers drop off one container and pick up another on the same truck trip.
It also said most terminals are now allowing truckers to cancel and rebook appointments on the same day if an appointment is available. Terminals were able to make this enhancement through software modifications.
One terminal has begun allowing trucking companies to make appointments for picking up containers several days before the ship docks, allowing truckers to better plan their workloads.
“The new appointment-based PierPass system is working, and we are encouraged that the terminals are responding to our recommendations for additional improvements to their appointment systems,” said Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, which represents draymen in the two ports. “We continue working with PierPass and the terminals to make the container pickup and delivery process faster and smoother for truckers and their customers.”
PierPass said that during the third calendar quarter of 2019, a weighted average of 30% of available daytime appointments and 41% of available nighttime appointments went unused.
“This indicates that, on an aggregate basis, more than enough appointment slots are being made available by terminals,” it said.
The percentage of no-shows (when the trucker fails to appear for an appointment) has also fallen.
“For both of the past two quarters, no-shows were down to an average of 14% of peak-hour appointments and 15% of off-peak appointments, as terminals continued meetings and follow-up with trucking companies that repeatedly miss their appointments,” said PierPass. When the program began, PierPass said those percentages were much higher “from mid-20s and the low-30s.”
Cushing said while there was some concern by truckers that they would have to rely on 12 different terminal systems to make appointments, it turns out most truckers either deal with a limited number of terminals or use systems that allow them to make appointments at multiple terminals. On average, 81% of trucking companies only have to look at four screens and 68% only have to look at three screens.
LaBar said trucking companies would prefer for there to be a single portal or better yet do direct API integration with the terminal appointment systems. That would allow trucking companies to have their staff “live inside their own dispatch systems.”
LaBar explained, “Talking with my members, they do not want to go to any website. They want the data to come into their system so it’s only one time they have to enter information, one place they have to look for things, and have that data being shared in real time.”
He said that would promote more efficient operations and prevent errors in data entry and trouble tickets when drayage drivers arrive at terminals.
Marine terminals also allow shippers to ask to remove containers from a terminal using so-called “peel-off piles” in which a large number of containers going to a single shipper or group of shippers can be drayed off by a group of trucks working together.
But LaBar says use of “peel-off piles” seems to be less common. He thinks this may be because the use of larger ships makes it difficult to block stow containers and terminal operators to accommodate peel-off piles. And he says as vessel-sharing agreements gain more members, “instead of having a critical mass on one ship [shippers] may have their volume spread across multiple ships going to multiple terminals.”