Just about everyone in transportation and import/export is looking for an increase in efficiency, and the ports are usually where we look. There are many opportunities for improvement within the supply chain. As a US Top 40 Exporter, Anderson Hay has about 55 loads a day currently going to port, solely from our headquarters in Ellensburg, WA, one of our three plants. Along with thousands of others in the supply-chain, our everyday operations are directly dependent on how smoothly things go at marine terminals.
Recently, Philip Davies (principal at Davies Transportation Consulting) studied truck calls at Los Angeles-Long Beach and Vancouver ports, and found that the most effective change in increasing efficiency is to reduce the processing time for trucks. According to Davies “a [time] reduction of 50% at the on-dock and off-dock terminals alone would increase load trips per hour by 19%, and a reduction of 25% at all terminals would increase load trips per hour by 13%.”
It seems that most of the congestion at terminals occurs as a result of inbound containers. Ports are now moving from storing inbound containers on chassis to stacking them in storage yards. This increases the time spent handling containers, which requires a natural increase in labor for longshore workers and a slower process for shippers and truckers.
Export loads do not experience similar wait time; Davies found in his study that export drivers completed transactions in only 25-35 minutes, which is half the time most import loads spend at the terminals (50-60 minutes).
Some ports have taken steps to adapt to the increase in congestion, such as mandatory appointment systems and extending gate hours. Longer gate hours result in decreased turn times for drivers. However ports often charge additional fees for this service in an attempt to recoup the added costs of labor.
Container lines also have a vested interest in increasing efficiency. Often, import containers can be stored for up to four days at a marine terminal, referred to as free-time, without charge depending on the port’s tariff. After the free-time allotment, a storage charge is levied and often covered by the carrier lines. This leaves little incentive for customers to move containers that are taking up valuable acreage and increasing congestion after their free-time has expired.
The Port of Long Beach has proposed a solution to this particular problem: changing the free-time calculation from days to shifts. This would hopefully encourage more evening shifts, allowing customers more time to pick up their cargo. It would also decrease the number of containers in storage yards at the port and limit storage fees.
As terminal operating environments become increasingly complex, there is not necessarily one single solution. It is important, however that every part of the supply chain operate together to develop a more efficient managed environment at container ports. What opportunities for improvement do you see at ports?