As peak shipping season gets underway and more containers arrive at ports, the ability of North America marine terminals to handle the extra truck traffic is coming into sharper focus.
This stems from the experience seen in 2018 when many drivers sat in long queues and shippers faced delays in retrieving their freight.
The issue of driver wait times was particularly acute at the largest U.S. port complex, Los Angeles and Long Beach. There, wait times for drivers averaged 90 minutes or higher from the fourth quarter through February 2019, according to the Harbor Trucking Association’s Truck Mobility Data powered by GeoStamp. In response to the wait times, drivers would show up earlier at off-peak hours to retrieve containers, creating even longer lines of trucks.
To alleviate the queues, the Los Angeles-Long Beach marine terminals revised their appointment system to offer both day and evening slots for drivers to pick up containers. The new system, called PierPass 2.0, debuted in November 2018. Now with eight months of experience, PierPass’ administrators say there is plenty of capacity for drivers at the port.
PierPass said that more than one third of available appointments for picking up or delivering containers at Los Angeles and Long Beach are going unused, “leaving cargo owners with many available choices of appointment slots.”
For weekday daytime shifts, PierPass said that a weighted average of the region’s 12 marine terminals show 64 percent of appointments were used, while the remaining 36 percent were unused. Evening shifts also show ample capacity with 45 percent of the available appointment slots going unused.
John Cushing, president of PierPass, said the unused appointments show “that the system has substantial capacity to handle additional growth and offers significant flexibility in appointment times.”
Thanks to the advent of off-peak appointments, “the late-afternoon queuing at the terminals has been eliminated,” Cushing said.
Drivers are also making sure they follow through on appointments once they are booked. PierPass said that when the new system first started, the percentage of missed appointments averaged between the mid-20s and the low-30s. Ports-wide in the second quarter, the average of no-shows has dropped to 14 percent during the first shift and 15 percent during OffPeak shifts.
PierPass credits the outreach from marine terminals to truckers on using the appointment systems effectively for the decrease in missed appointments, including meetings and follow-up with trucking companies that repeatedly miss their appointments.
But the marine terminals still caution that trucking companies need to get appointments as soon as they are available to pick up a load. In some instances, shippers and drayage carriers are still waiting until the last free day for container use before scheduling an appointment.
In 2018, it cost terminals $288 million to operate night and Saturday shifts under the OffPeak program. The program collected $216.5 million in fees to partially offset the added costs.
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