Friday, September 3, 2010

Industry Solutions Help to Cut Truck Wait Times at SoCal Ports

Container terminal truck queuing times at the Southern California ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles appear to be abating according to members of the industry.

Queuing times became an issue last year after most Southern California terminals eliminated a weeknight or weekend gate citing financial concerns. Trucking and terminal officials have said that trucking calls at some terminals fell as much as 30 percent following the global economic meltdown that began in late 2008. Removing the gates in the face of declining volumes was seen as a viable cost-cutting measure.

However, as container volumes began to spring back late last year, trucks began to pile up outside of the existing gates – especially during the 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. period as truckers waited for nighttime gates to open. Many truckers are instructed to wait for the nighttime gates to avoid a daytime traffic congestion fee.

By some estimates truck wait times around the crunch periods – when the nighttime gates open at 6 p.m. and when the gates open first thing in the morning – were reaching as 45 minutes or longer.

Trucks are not allowed under state law to queue within the terminal for more than 20 minutes, so many line up just outside the ports or sit on the side of nearby streets.

In the early summer, an industry stakeholder group was organized to develop solutions to the problem. The group, which first met in late July, came up with several recommendations.

One, which was implemented following the group's July 29 meeting by 11 of 13 terminals, was to reinstate the gates eliminated last year.

In addition, several terminals are also running a so-called flex gate between the 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. period when terminals are normally closed as the terminals move from day to night shifts.

Numerous trucking firms have said that the restoration of the additional gates has decreased the waiting times.

A study conducted through the University of California, Santa Barbara appears to back up the anecdotal evidence, albeit based on moves at a single terminal. The study found that at the single terminal studied 56 percent of trucks waited less than 10 minutes, 34 percent waited 10-30 minutes, and only 10 percent of the sampled trucks waited more than 30 minutes.

The stakeholders group plans to continue meeting and have already suggested several longer-term solutions to gate congestion such as a port-wide truck appointment system.