Harbour Link Blog Archive

Traffic congestion and Reservation shortages are hurting this Gateway

Posted 2013-11-29 by Harbour Link in opinion

We have spoken extensively about the growing challenges being encountered by container drayage carriers at the Port of Vancouver due to traffic congestion and reservation shortages.

The congestion issue recently resulted in a “one day work stoppage” (withdrawal of services) by Owner Operator drivers (led by the United Truckers Association) to protest the lengthy waiting time to access the Port’s container terminals and the inordinately long turn times being experienced once inside the terminals to get their trucks loaded or unloaded. It is taking more than one hour (on average) to complete a single container pick-up or drop transaction at Vancouver terminals. As a comparison, it takes less than 30 minutes to complete a similar transaction at Seattle or Tacoma. Harbour Link captures terminal turn time truck data electronically using geo-fencing technology at all Pacific Northwest (PNW) terminals.

Drayage carriers like Harbour Link fully appreciate the investments being made by Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) to improve Port access /egress and understand the need to cope with some short term pain while PMV completes the capital projects presently being expedited by them. Indeed, Harbour Link applauds PMV for the capital work projects it is undertaking and also for its efforts to collectively work with all members of the supply chain in finding workable solutions to improve truck turn times to levels matching the Port’s objective to be second to none. What is disconcerting is the slow reaction by the terminal operators - or the low priority being given by terminal operators - to modify the operating processes within their terminals to achieve faster turn times for the receipt and delivery of containers on/off of trucks.

We believe the solution to improving turn times for trucks is for the terminal operators to allocate more container handling resources to expedite the transit of trucks and to recognize the terminal interface for all modes of landside transport (truck, rail or short sea shipping) must be given equal service priority to enable the Port to expeditiously service its global customer base.

For the Vancouver gateway to maintain and build upon its good reputation in the global market , it is essential the terminal operators work collaboratively with all modes of transport in finding ways to achieve the expeditious movement of containers between ships and the geographic region of the Port’s marketplace serviced by trucks, trains and short sea shipping.

With the forgoing in mind, we strongly believe all members of the supply chain must be brought together to examine the merits of lengthening the daily operating hours of the Port’s gates to permit the pick-up and delivery of containers by trucks between 6 AM through until 8 PM daily without service disruptions due to coffee or meal breaks by Port workers. Such a step would substantially increase the gate hours to enable the container terminals to provide additional reservations that are urgently needed to match the supply chain requirements of the Port’s customers.

Securing reservations for the pick-up / delivery of containers is very difficult to achieve, regardless of the efforts and strings pulled by drayage carriers to get reservations. Getting reservations for containers to match customer supply chain requirements presently averages 3 days, regardless whether the reservation is to pick-up or to deliver containers.

When reservations for export cargo cannot be obtained within the earliest receiving date (ERD) of the vessel the cargo is booked to be loaded to, the terminal operator’s response is often “as much as we would like to help our hands are tied”. The inability to provide reservations for export containers can only be construed as a failure by the terminal operators to appreciate the adverse impact the inability to obtain reservations is having on the supply chain, including the following.

  • The commercial impact of not being able to provide sufficient reservations prevents exporters from delivering their cargo within the ERD window of the vessel, resulting in missed export sales due to service failures and added costs associated with letter of credit requirements.
  • The commercial impact of not being able to provide reservations has on the success of shipping lines that call, resulting in the loss of revenue by shipping lines and the utilization of pre-committed shipboard container space.
  • The ruinous impact the lack of reservations for export cargo has on Vancouver’s reputation as a Gateway for the transit of Canada’s export trade to global markets, including loss of sales.

Surely, if terminal operators cannot provide sufficient reservations to match exporters’ supply chains, it is incumbent on PMV as landlord and performance overseer of the Port’s container terminals to invoke Key Performance Indicator standards (KPI’s) on the terminal operators, including the requirement to add resources and working hours necessary to fulfill the reservation requirements that are essential to accommodating the seamless flow of Canada’s export and import trade.

We have endeavored in recent years to seek a collective solution to the port congestion / reservation problems, with very limited success. In our opinion neither Canada nor PMV can continue to permit the terminal operators to conduct port services in a manner that fails to meets the service needs of the marketplace the Port serves.

The right starting point is for PMV to compel the terminal operators to reach out and work collaboratively in a forum with all sectors representing the supply chain, i.e. BCTA, CIFFA, Chamber of Shipping, CILTNA, Import and Exporter groups and Off Dock Container Depot Operators to find mutually workable solutions to correct the port interface issues in the best interests of expediting the seamless transit of containers through the Gateway for the betterment of everyone.