Truck turn times in Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex have unexpectedly showed dramatic improvement in March, due to the seasonal drop in cargo volume that followed the Chinese New Year in Asia, but also because terminal operators in the largest U.S. port complex are working harder than ever to improve their gate operations. “I really do want to commend the terminal operators for the progress they have made,” said Weston LaBar, executive director of the Harbor Trucking Association of Southern California (HTA), which compiles and publishes truck turn times each month. Lengthy truck visit times and long truck lines at marine terminal gates are the bane of the harbor drayage industry nationwide. A number of ports have established task forces to study the causes of lengthy truck turn times and formulate solutions.
The HTA truck mobility numbers show that in March the average truck visit time at the 13 container terminals-from the time of arrival in the queue outside the gate to the truck’s exit from the terminal-was 82 minutes. That was down 10 minutes from February and was the lowest monthly average truck visit time since May 2014. Ever since West Coast ports last summer recovered from the congestion that occurred during the lengthy longshore contract negotiations of 2014 to 2015, the average truck visit time each month appeared to be stuck in a range of 89 to 92 minutes. Discouraged truckers said a 90-minute visit time was the “new normal” in Los Angeles-Long Beach. That is why the sudden 10-minute drop in the average truck turn time from February to March has truckers and terminal operators optimistic that they are turning the corner on port congestion. March’s drop in container volume while factories in Asia were closed for the Chinese New Year undoubtedly contributed to the improved turn times. Los Angeles, for example, handled 612,863 20-foot-equivalent units in March, down from 713,721 TEUs in February. When traffic drops, terminals are less congested and cargo velocity increases throughout the facility.
However, LaBar said other factors are at work. First, terminal operators are taking publication of the monthly turn-time numbers seriously. Terminal operators each month ask how they did compared to the previous month, and how they are doing compared with other terminals, because retailers and other beneficial cargo owners are becoming more actively involved in port affairs, LaBar said. Also, ever since the the ports one year ago launched a supply-chain optimization effort that involves regular meetings with terminal operators, truckers, labor, equipment providers and BCOs, terminal operators have addressed potential bottlenecks in the delivery of containers to truckers. Terminals are working hard to improve chassis availability and to ensure that “roadability” inspections of chassis do not take too long, LaBar said. Terminals that had been undergoing construction in their gate areas as they automated their facilities, including TraPac in Los Angeles and Long Beach Container Terminal in Long Beach, have mostly completed the projects and have therefore reduced the conflicts with truck traffic and in fact are recording excellent turn times. LBCT’s automated operation at Middle Harbor had an average truck visit time of 43 minutes, which was second best in the harbor, and TraPac, at 80 minutes, was two minutes below the average for the harbor.
The use of creative measures to free-flow containers by aggregating them in separate piles for participating truckers are also resulting in improved turn times. SSA Marine, which operates three terminals in Long Beach, consistently has been among the best turn times because it drays off inbound containers as soon as they are discharged from the vessels. Stay tuned as we continue reporting on the progress made in the LA-LB port complex following the labor negotiations of last year.