Technology, process improvements foster improved LA-LB truck turn times

Bill Mongelluzzo, Senior Editor | Dec 03, 2019 3:34PM EST

Although dozens of technology providers offer software programs that allow shippers and freight forwarders to digitize their supply chains and gain visibility into the status of their containers, terminal operators in Los Angeles-Long Beach appear to be driving the most impressive gains in gate productivity through data-sharing, the use of technology, and process improvements.

The November turn-time numbers compiled by the Harbor Trucking Association (HTA) — which has been using GPS technology to measure gate performance since 2013 — indicates that collaboration between terminal operators and the trucking community is paying dividends.

“Our relationship with the terminal operators is better than ever,” Weston LaBar, CEO of the trucking association, told JOC.com Monday. Individual terminals are using this data to identify bottlenecks in their operations and are working with drayage companies to address those issues, he said.

The average truck visit time at the 12 container terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach in November was 69 minutes. That was the second consecutive month that average truck visit times were less than 70 minutes, which is a six-year low. Truck turn times are a key metric for measuring marine terminal performance. The turn times have declined steadily this year from 98 minutes in January.

Truckers, beneficial cargo owners (BCOs), and non-vessel-operating common carriers (NVOs) today have access to many technology platforms that provide visibility to shipments throughout the supply chain, but it is becoming clearer that the most meaningful gains start with the terminals themselves. Terminals that share information on container and equipment availability, and proactively “push” this data to port users rather than requiring truckers and BCOs to query their websites, are among the leaders in gate productivity, the HTA numbers show.

Data sharing among the supply chain partners that originates with the terminal operator provides the foundation for improved cargo velocity that benefits the terminal operator as well as the cargo interests. The ultimate goal of sharing information on container availability is to assure BCOs and truckers that when they make an appointment to take delivery of a container, it will be ready for pickup, and the paperwork needed to claim the container is complete and accurate.

It is this ability of BCOs and truckers to know when their container will be cleared for pickup that will drive further gains in gate productivity, LaBar said. “We need to be more predictive on getting into and out of the terminal,” he said.

Long Beach Container Terminal (LBCT) in July launched its truck interface program that is integrated with the truck management systems of the drayage companies that call there. The program pushes data to truckers so they can make appointments, cancel an appointment if an issue develops while the driver is en route, and make an appointment to drop off a container and pick up another in the same trip to complete the dual transaction.

Also of importance, the interface program assures that the necessary shipment data is complete and accurate before the drivers are dispatched, “so they’re not standing around for an hour for something that should have been clarified before the appointment was made,” Anthony Otto, president of LBCT, told JOC.com.

Automated terminals are trucker-friendly
LBCT is one of two container terminals in the port complex with fully automated cargo-handling equipment. The other is the TraPac terminal in Los Angeles. In November, LBCT had the fastest turn times in the harbor at 35 minutes. TraPac’s had the second-lowest average turn time at 37 minutes.

Automated container terminals also foster rapid truck turn times because of their physical configuration. Container stacks in the yard are positioned perpendicular to the vessel and the gate, rather than horizontally as in manual terminals. This prevents street truck traffic from interfering with the yard tractors that shuttle containers between the vessel and the stacks.

Also, street trucks proceed only a short distance from the gate to the end of the container stack rather than being driven deep into the yard. Furthermore, the terminal operating system each night grooms the yard with import, export, and empty containers arranged together in the appropriate stacks so the drivers the next day can complete more dual transactions in the same trip.

However, automation is not necessary in order to facilitate shorter turn times. SSA Marine has manual operations at its three terminals in Long Beach and keeps its yards fluid by draying off imported containers as soon as they are discharged from the vessels. The SSA-Matson terminal in November had an average turn time of 40 minutes. SSA’s Pacific Container Terminal’s turn time was 70 minutes and its Pier A terminal had an average turn time of 66 minutes.

International Transportation Service’s (ITS's) terminal in Long Beach had an average turn time of 71 minutes in November. ITS in 2017 launched the Advent Intermodal System predictive visibility tool that automatically notifies BCOs and truckers of the day and work shift when their containers will be available for pickup. ITS determines the container status based upon its stowage on the vessel, the number of cranes it will work against the ship, and the container moves per crane per hour at the facility. ITS said that information can save BCOs a day in taking delivery of containers.

LaBar said as more terminals share information on container availability, average truck turn times throughout the harbor should continue to improve, to the benefit of truckers, BCOs, and the terminals themselves. “There are huge opportunities to collaborate, he said. “This will result in happy customers, which is what we both want.”

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at bill.mongelluzzo@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @billmongelluzzo.