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Mixed progress as Florida terminals go digital to cure congestion woes

Port Everglades' channel to be expanded
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Three of Florida’s major terminals are looking are investing or considering further investment in digitalising its HGV booking systems in a bid to reduce trucking turn-times and alleviate pressures on their local ports. 

In an online event with the Florida Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association (FCBF) on 24 February, representatives from Florida International Terminal (FIT) LLC, South Florida Container Terminal (SFCT), and Port Everglades Terminal (PEV) LLC outlined mixed assessments of the impact of unprecedented cargo congestion at US ports. 

Driving forces of congestion  

At the SFCT, Eric Schanzer, Head of Operations, said January/February traffic compared to 2020 is up by a staggering 54% on volume.  

“Cargo comes off the ships from Friday to Sunday,” he said. “On Wednesday we see the peak of activity in the port. On Thursday, you have between 2,500 and 3,000 imports needing to make it out of the terminal.” 

At FIT, whilst noting the port has not seen vessel congestion akin to that of Los Angeles Long Beach on the West Coast, Commercial Director Alex Thomson said “serious peaks and valleys” in truck traffic has resulted in congestion in its yard and outside of the terminal on nearby McIntosh road. 

“Our turnaround times are not where we want them to be,” said Thomson. “60 minutes is the internal goal to make sure an import can be picked up from pedestal to pedestal. The main issue is the total turn time from when the trucker enters the port complex. One terminal can affect the others.” 

For Richard Rovirosa, CEO and General Manager at nearby PEV, operators there are not experiencing the same levels of congestion as surrounding terminals – highlighting that the terminal has used data and automation in its operations to prepare truckers in anticipation of peaks and troughs of traffic.  

“It’s important for trucks to have the right information,” Rovirosa told members on the FCBF call. “Trucks need to have proper booking documents and dangerous cargo documents. This information flow is key for us to be able to anticipate these moves and respond to their needs.” Rovirosa noted that Everglades averaged a 35-minute turn-time from June-onward in 2020 – beating pre-COVID levels. 

Digitising cargo movement 

The Port of Miami and SFCT has made significant investment in new gate infrastructure to alleviate some of the challenges in HGV traffic within the port – as well as a new appointment system. 

“Part of our new gate infrastructure does require the trucking community to sign up to the RFID through eModal,” Schanzer said. Over the coming weeks the Port of Miami will be sending out information on Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) sign up, but alongside the RFIDs the appointment system will allow truckers to get information sooner, levelling off demand flows. 

“It’s going to be a learning curve. It’s not a new system in the US, but coming online will go hand-in-hand for gate infrastructure. It will be a lot faster than everyone showing up after launch or during a certain day,” he added. 

Thomson said FIT does not currently have a fully-implemented booking system: the terminal originally planned to install eModal appointments in its terminal in 2019, however a TOS upgrade and process flaws were identified meaning the tool has been rolled back. 

“We are looking into it and we anticipate in a few years it will come into fruition,” he outlined. 

 “We’re asking ourselves, do we [install eModal appointments] on our own or work with port authority for a common system? If one terminal goes onto appointment system and another doesn’t, then the practicalities are difficult for HGV and freight,” he said. 

Rovirosa said the PEV terminal plans to utilise eModal like South Florida and has been upgrading software to conform with operational requirements before making the appointment system mandatory in the summer. 

“From local trucking community perspective, our larger operators have 60% of the total truck capacity – but some are not opting in and dispatch manually,” he said.  

“When you impose a mandatory appointment system, which we plan to do in the late summer, once that happens but operators need to be up to speed or you create more of a quagmire. The trucking community needs to prepare for what is coming,” Rovirosa added. 

Port Everglades in Florida trafficked 945,000 TEU in FY2020, making the Port the 12th largest in the US and the third largest containerised cargo port in Florida. 

The Port announced in December 2020 that is has been making significant upgrades to its operations in the expansion of its navigation shipping channel and the addition of six Super Post-Panamax cranes. 

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