The marine terminal business “is not all that complicated,” said Alan McCorkle, the new chief executive officer of Yusen Terminals LLC (YTI). “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in it.” But his joke belies the fact that there has been what he calls “so much evolution” in his 20 years in the business, first with Maersk’s APM Terminals unit, then with Yusen since 2014.
The rise of container alliances, investments by private equity firms, and the ongoing growth of container volumes mean terminals have to fight to attract shippers and to find ways to improve their performance.
McCorkle will have to deal with these issues as the new head of Yusen, the fifth-largest container terminal by acreage at the Port of Los Angeles. Co-owned by Japan’s NYK Line and Macquarie Infrastructure Partners, Yusen completed a project to grow capacity from 1.69 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) to 1.91 million TEU annually.
But truck capacity and making drayage more efficient is also a big – and ongoing – project for YTI, McCorkle said. Below is an excerpted summary of an interview with FreightWaves about his new position.
How would you characterize the marine terminal business currently?
There has been so much evolution in the last five to eight years as the number of global steamship lines has compressed. The terminal business has gotten a lot more competitive and customer demands for better levels of service has increased.
Who are those customers and what level of service do they want?
We have three customer segments: the drayage driver community; the beneficial cargo owners they service; and the steamship lines. So the service level really depends on which customers we are talking about. For drayage and beneficial cargo owners, the big number is the turn time when you come into a facility. To deliver a consistently low turn time month after month is a key metric for those communities. We are at approximately 70 minutes currently in turn times. We have a goal to get below 65 minutes on average and drive that number down further. For the steamship lines, vessel productivity is key and how quickly we can get a ship on and off our dock.
The Harbor Trucking Association gave YTI credit for having one of the better appointment systems for truckers. What sets it apart?
When I came over to YTI, the appointment system was one of the first things we looked at. At that time, YTI was still a random access model for truckers. There was no appointment system, so whatever happened happened. But one lesson I had in my prior experience was to bring to YTI what worked for us at other terminals. A lot of terminals are kind of doing this now, but I wanted to involve the different parties that we serve. We started to roll out our appointment systems to different folks in order to see what they wanted. We went out to find someone that would build it for us, but we also tasked them with finding out what the end user wanted; in this case the trucking community. So instead of coming up with something off-the-shelf that works for us and layering in some features for outside users, let’s make what they want the core of the system. This company, Voyage Control, had never done anything previously for our industry. They did appointments for tradeshows. That allowed them to build something from scratch from the trucker’s perspective. In that time, we went from one of the worst in the harbor to one of the top terminals in a two-year span. In August we are going to the last phase of that with an appointment system for empty containers. We meet with the trucking community on a quarterly basis and Voyage Control representatives attend those meetings for the feedback on its system.
It still allows a window for drivers. So if they have an appointment for 10:00 a.m., they can get there as early as 9:30 a.m. or late as 10:30 a.m., and still be in the appointment window. If someone has to miss his appointment, we would like for him to cancel. It’s having the ability to make same-day appointments. I am not directly familiar with the appointment systems at every terminal, but it’s not too commonplace to have same-day appointments. Delays are a reality of doing business, whether it’s a chassis or container issue or the truck breaks down. Any number of things can delay a box. Port-wide, the percentage of cancelled appointments is around 15 percent to 18 percent, but our cancellation rate is between 9 and 10 percent. What that points to for me is that the flexibility in the appointment system means truckers can meet more of their appointments.
In addition to appointments, drivers complain about updated instructions for handling empties returns. What is your view on that?
That’s a real issue for drayage. The carriers are doing their set up for the day based on which terminal is taking in which types of empties. Then some notice comes out and a driver coming down the I-710 freeway bringing an empty container is told the terminal is no longer accepting particular types of empties for a certain line. Those mid-shift changes can be driven by the steamship line or the terminal. For the steamship line, they may want to position empties at different terminals for their evacuation sweeps, or they may be exceeding their space allocation at a certain terminal. That’s just the way the business is today, but we need to move away from that as an industry. For us, we would like to see mid-shift changes be the exception, not the norm. We as an industry need to get more upstream of this so the customers, drayage in this case, is not impacted.
PierPass said that about one-third of container appointments are going unused. Is that about what you are seeing at YTI?
Our unused appointment percentage is a little bit above that, but pretty close. The real issue for a driver is ‘I can’t get an appointment when I want it.’ That’s much different than saying there are not enough appointments available. When we meet with truckers, we will try and solve that issue. That’s why we have quarterly meetings. Since the new PierPass system has been in place, there has been more of a move to day shift appointments rather than evening shifts. And in the day shift, there’s more preference for mid-day appointments than morning appointments. But it’s very situational and driven by the needs of the shipper.
How is YTI marketing itself to shippers?
We are in that middle tier of terminals in Southern California. From a ship capacity standpoint, we can handle container ships in the 13,000 to 15,000 TEU range, but we don’t get a lot of those in. THE Alliance (YTI’s anchor carrier) has not brought a lot of ships that size to North America. In the southern California market, you are still looking at ships in the 8,000 to 12,000 TEU range, on average.
Along with the Port of Los Angeles, we have made a $75 million investment to upgrade our terminal. We brought in two new cranes, deepened and widened our berth, put in additional rail track and repaved our container yard. The way we market ourselves to shippers is that once the box comes off of the ship, we are going to get it out of the gate or on the rail as quickly as possible. We want to do 30 container moves per hour as often as possible. We are running about a move and a half under where we want to be.
Our next big project is the Clean Air Action Plan’s goal of having zero emissions by 2030. We are starting to look at how to position ourselves with respect to that. It’s 11 years away, but we are still trying to understand where the technology is going to be out there.
How ready is YTI for the coming peak season?
If we are looking at readiness, there are four gauges that I would put on our dashboard – the longshore labor supply, chassis supply, railroad performance and dwell times for containers. I would say all four gauges are flashing green currently. It’s a good place to be in early August.
There have been good consistent volumes coming through our terminal. We haven’t seen anything to indicate that what we had last year will repeat itself. Everything we are seeing out there points to an average traditional peak season that will start to ramp up in September, peak in October and start winding down through November. It’s not going to be the biggest peak season, but also not the smallest.