Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SoCal Ports to Truckers: We Are Watching the Data

Southern California port officials are utilizing data collected from radio frequency identification devices on drayage trucks to determine violations of both the letter and spirit of the ports' clean truck program, in some cases even outside port property.

All trucks servicing the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are mandated to carry a unique RFID tag that transmits information about each truck when they enter or leave a port facility.

This data on truck moves is collected through a port drayage registry and transmitted to the ports for analysis.

Each month the ports sift through the data for what they call "irregularities" in "use patterns." 

One of the things they can glean from the data, according to Port of Los Angeles Deputy Executive Director of Operations John Holmes, is switching of an RFID between trucks. 

"If the truck goes through the gate at 10:05 and a second truck [with the same RFID] goes through the gate at 10:07," said Holmes, "it could indicate that someone has pulled the RFID transponder from their truck and given it to someone else. Because typically a truck doesn't go through the same gate two minutes apart."

The port then flags such irregularities and then contacts the trucking firm that sent the problem truck for further investigation.

Other things that the ports look for are extraordinary numbers of moves by one truck in a 24-hour period.

"It could indicate that they are taking the container out of the yard and then meeting somebody else and switching off to a non-2007 compliant truck," said Holmes. "Anytime we find this, we contact the trucking companies and ask them to explain why this activity occurs."

Holmes said that in some cases the questionable activity is perfectly legitimate, such as rapid short haul turn-arounds to port-area rail yards.

However, Holmes said that they have found groups of truckers working together to do dray-offs. A truck plan-compliant truck will enter the port, pull a container and then meet his confederates just outside the port to switch trailers to a non-compliant truck.

Holmes said that a normal amount of moves for a 24-hour-period is typically 1-to-6, but when the data shows moves of more than eight a day, the port analysts take notice.

"We’re trying to make sure that people are following the intent of the program," said Holmes.

While admitting that dray-offs are not illegal, Holmes said that the port turns for enforcement to the beneficial cargo owners, who in most cases frown heavily on the activity.

"If Walmart found out that there were dray-offs being done with their cargo, they would immediately take action against the trucking company," said Holmes. "It's a behavior that we don't encourage and we allow the BCOs and trucking firms to work through it.

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz said that the trucking firms "know now that we are watching the data," but ultimately, the port expects the trucking companies to police the truck drivers.

According to Holmes, about 0.6 percent of the monthly truck calls are flagged as being irregular – roughly 900 truck calls out a total of 250,000 in January.