Oakland’s largest terminal operator is struggling to find the right formula for its newly-mandated trucker appointment system.
Some truckers and beneficial cargo owners say conditions have improved, although others complain about rising demurrage costs owing to insufficient slots each day for making appointments.
Oakland International Container Terminal’s experience is a development that cargo owners who ship through other seaports should follow closely because they will soon be grappling with the same problem.
Cargo volumes have increased to the point where the largest ports cannot handle their traffic in the traditional 40-hour work week. Terminals are responding by adding second shifts, but in order to manage traffic, terminal operators are pairing extended gates with controversial mandatory appointments to spread truck flow out evenly over 16 hours each day.
The problems in Oakland started this spring when the second-largest tenant, Outer Harbor Terminal, terminated its lease and declared bankruptcy. For truckers calling at OICT, the challenge now is to secure an appointment window before the free time allowed for storing their imported containers on dock runs out. When free time expires, storage fees, known as “demurrage” are charged,
The problem is compounded by the fact many truckers and warehouses don’t work at night. Furthermore, even though truckers may work for a few hours at night, they rarely work the entire eight-hour shift.
Under the pilot project in Oakland, which still has two months to go before it is reevaluated, all truck moves incur a $30 fee whether they move during the day or at night, so there is no incentive to book a reservation at night or disincentive to book one during the daytime shift.
On the other hand, after years of experience with appointments, both the terminals and the truckers are improving the systems. Seven of the 13 terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach now have appointment systems, and several more will come on line this year.
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