Do truck appointment systems decrease turn times? Preliminary data shows no correlation.
Truck appointment systems are one of the “innovations” port and industry leaders tout will help optimize the supply chain. The hope is that such systems would decrease truck congestion and turn times by creating a more orderly process for trucks arriving at terminal gates. If port drivers had an appointment, the theory goes, they would not cue outside the terminal hours before the gates open, jockeying to get through the gates first in hopes of getting their container and back out more quickly.
Recent data made available by the Harbor Trucking Association does not support this theory, at least in their execution to date. Preliminary results from the five terminals that implemented an appointment system in 2015 were mixed, failing to show a correlation between an appointment system and improving turn times.
As shown by the chart below, the five container terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach that implemented appointment systems in 2015 – APM Terminals, Eagle Marine Services (APL), West Basin Container Terminal, Seaside Transportation Services (Evergreen), and Total Terminals International – vary widely in terms of average turn times. Average turn times among these five terminals were split, scoring both well above and below the port-wide average for turn times.
Critics of appointment systems point to the fact that if drayage companies and drivers are the only ones with “skin in the game” to comply with these systems, there will be little motivation for other stakeholders to change their behavior, leaving the drayage community to yet again bear the increased costs in the supply chain.
There are other “innovations” under experimentation that may show more promise such as “free flow” or off-dock “peel off yards,” but there isn’t enough data to show whether these concepts will actually improve efficiency at most terminals. While SSA-operated terminals outperform the average POLA-POLB terminal turn times, it is not clear whether their system is replicable. SSA has its own dedicated peel-off yard where one trucking company – Shippers Transport Express, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of SSA Marine – moves practically all of the cargo. So it works for them because there aren’t hundreds of trucking companies rushing to beat each other to the peel-off stacks, cutting in line, and causing confusion.
This brings us again to a familiar theme: this case study presents a strong argument for drayage industry consolidation being a critical piece of the puzzle for improving port efficiency.