USA Ports Move Toward Truck Appointment Model

In order to allow terminals to calibrate the flow of trucks into their gates and through their facilities, and to match truck demand with capacity at entrance gate and in each area of the terminal, a truck appointment system is being considered at some ports.

GCT Bayonne plans to introduce such a system this year, and other New York-New Jersey terminals are quietly preparing to follow. The Port of Virginia plans in June to begin testing an appointment system at Norfolk International Terminals and eventually expand it portwide. The NIT appointment system had a short-lived test last year.

Appointments remain the exception at container terminals, but the concept is gaining support. Various forms of appointment systems already exist at ports including Los Angeles, Long Beach, New Orleans, Vancouver British Columbia, Sydney Australia, and Southampton U.K.

Advent Intermodal Solutions’ eModal technology supports management of trucker appointments at several ports and will be used at New York-New Jersey and Virginia. All New York-New Jersey terminals have agreed to feed container availability data to their port’s system.

Truck management systems ranked high among recommendations last year by industry task forces created to find solutions to chronic congestion at terminals in New York-New Jersey and Virginia.Howver motor carriers question whether terminals can deliver the promised benefits with the new truck appointment system. Trucker reaction has ranged from skeptical to hostile. The truckers say that before going to appointments, terminals should extend gate hours and run their facilities more efficiently.

Ed O’Callaghan, president of Century Express in Hampton Roads, said it’s unrealistic to expect appointments to enable a congested terminal with four-hour truck queues to suddenly provide quick turn times.

Truckers say they won’t accept appointments until terminals can shorten turn times and end long queues. Advocates of appointments say that can’t be done until terminals know when a truck will arrive to pick up a particular container.

Everyone agrees that change is needed. Congestion and delays are frustrating cargo interests and generating disputes over demurrage and per-diem bills for late pickup or return of containers.

Trucker appointment windows will vary among terminals with different equipment, yard layouts and operating practices. At New York-New Jersey, GCT Bayonne uses a combination of RMGs and rubber-tired gantry cranes. Other port terminals use rubber-tire gantries or straddle carriers.

Terminals will have to decide how wide to make appointment systems, how much slack to build into the scheduling of trucks for the windows, and how to create a balance system of penalties and incentives for truckers and terminals.

At Port Metro Vancouver in British Columbia, truckers have two-hour appointment windows under a system that’s been in place several years. Under a government-brokered settlement to a truck driver strike last year, a $50 fee on daytime gate moves supports the operation of a second night gates that a second shift operates until 1 a.m.

In addition to the night gates, Vancouver’s appointments also have been tweaked to prevent a few truckers from scooping up all of the available slots and reselling them.

Average turn times for all trucks at GCT’s Vancouver terminals, including queues, are 22 to 28 minutes. Less than 3 percent of turn times are longer than the 90 minutes after which the terminal must pay a penalty.

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