Five problems with truck congestion at ports and how to solve them

Traffic on motorway with warehouse and truck for shipping

Written by SMATS Traffic Solutions

As the volume of seaborne trade has continued to rise, congestion of trucks carrying freight in and around maritime ports has increased with it. 

Long queues for these trucks causes several concerns for both port authorities and port operators. 

These concerns include hardships imposed on truck drivers, disruption of traffic, environmental issues, and even degradation of a port’s brand.

Logistics provider, NEXT Trucking, reported: “Nearly 63 per cent of drivers say they wait three hours or more at shipping docks.”

An article in Repairer Driver News also warned about congestion at many ports with an average time of 86 minutes to get trucks through, and 26 per cent of the transactions taking two hours or longer.

This article will explore five major concerns ports face due to truck congestion, and how real-time traffic data and predictive analytics can help solve these dilemmas.

1. Operational Efficiency

Truck congestion substantially diminishes port efficiency, causing a domino effect that reverberates throughout the port operation.

“Congestion is never an ideal case scenario in port logistics,” stated a blog on Container Xchange. 

“High turnaround time can slow down the outward movement of cargo from the port. It can disrupt the entire flow of operation… All this adds up to increased turnaround time and further impacts the efficiency of the port.”

Real-time data on truck movements – aggregated and collected passively, and analysed with the right platform – can help accurately predict truck wait times and turn times. 

This information allows port operators to proactively monitor the efficiency of truck movements within the terminal, and optimise operations by taking actions such as:

– More effective gate allocation

– More efficient scheduling of truck appointments and staff resources

– Fine tuning truck loading and other processes

Canadian traffic solutions company, SMATS, launched its Port Traffic Management Solution in June 2022, to equip port authorities and operators around the world to better manage drayage truck backlogs at terminal gates.

2. Sustainability

Trucks waiting in long lines at a port, or stuck in traffic near the port, lead to more pollution in the area. 

For example, the California Air Resources Board explained: “Major seaports in California have been experiencing a substantial increase in cargo imports, resulting in significant congestion at terminals and in surrounding areas. 

“This has led to emissions increases from freight-related sources which can negatively impact air quality especially in communities near ports.”

A UCLA report further outlined the California example: “The San Pedro Bay Ports contribute significantly to the suboptimal air quality that residents are exposed to in communities around the port… A major contributor of poor air quality is diesel truck exhaust.”

READ: Nidec ASI inks sustainability project worth $2.7 million

Sustainability has become a port priority in recent years, and reducing truck congestion in the port and on nearby roadways is one of the best ways a port can protect the environment. 

Access to real-time traffic data enables ports to manage its operations and reduce truck congestion, resulting in lower CO2 emissions.

The Ports of Rotterdam and Duisburg have signed a digitalisation and sustainability agreement aiming to become key logistics hubs in Europe and the world.

3. Truck Driver Relations

Long wait times also adversely impact truck drivers monetarily. 

A Business Insider article explained: “Only about 20 per cent of drivers at US ports operate as hourly employees. Most truckers are independent contractors and paid per load – meaning no matter how long they wait outside ports or warehouses, they often receive the same pay.”

Port operators can deliver real-time data on wait times through a mobile app that truck drivers can use to make smart decisions about their schedules, such as booking appointments at ideal times and avoiding peak traffic periods. 

This type of mobile app offers truck drivers more control to minimise wait times.

4. Community Relations

Another concern for port authorities is that long lines of trucks waiting at port terminals often turn into traffic congestion on the local roads, causing problems for the citizens that live and work in the area.

The Port of Los Angeles is just one example. The corridor leading to the port cannot handle the thousands of trucks coming to the port each week. 

“As a result, heavy-duty trucks often drive by residences and schools to avoid the congestion. Sometimes, truckers will go as far as abandoning containers and chassis in those same streets,” reported a Bloomberg article.

READ: PierPass 2.0 smooths truck traffic at Los Angeles & Long Beach Ports

Real-time traffic data combined with origin-destination analysis can help port authorities track truck movements and identify routes on nearby streets where trucks are negatively affecting the community. 

This information can be shared with community stakeholders to address the situation and maintain favourable relationships with the surrounding municipalities.

The Port of Los Angeles launched the Truck Turn-Time and Dual-Transaction Incentive Programmes, a new initiative to move trucks faster and more efficiently through its terminals.

5 Competitive Edge

“The efficiency of port infrastructure has also been identified as a key contributor to overall port competitiveness,” reported the World Bank. 

With regard to truck congestion, this may be the most important consideration for port operators because it directly impacts customer retention and profitability of the port.

Truck congestion can disrupt a port’s operation, increase port service rates, cause trouble for shipping companies and truck drivers, and ultimately diminish a port’s competitive advantage.

Real-time data and analytics provide port authorities and operators with extensive visibility into truck queues and traffic, so they can proactively address the situation and minimise congestion. 

This same capability also allows ports to share key performance indicators – such as wait times and turn times – with current and potential customers to demonstrate the port’s advantage over competing facilities. 

This essential technology can help improve customer satisfaction, strengthen a port’s reputation, and preserve a port’s leadership position in the market.

APM Terminals (APMT) has made plans to broaden the use of the new Truck Appointment System set to roll out globally. These plans are expected to expedite gate access, decrease truck turn times, and enhance global logistics planning.

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