L.A./Long Beach terminals seek to speed cargo
PierPass announces Free-Flow Program to move bulk lots of containers quickly out of port.
PierPass Inc. has launched a new program called “Free-Flow,” which it says will significantly reduce the time it takes participating trucks to pick up containers at marine terminals in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“While Free-Flow isn’t a silver bullet to fix all congestion issues, we believe it can significantly benefit port users,” said Bruce Wargo, Pierpass president and chief executive officer.
PierPass, which is a not-for-profit company created by marine terminal operators at the two ports in 2005 to address multi-terminal issues, such as congestion, air quality and security, said the “random-access process – where any truck can show up at any time to pick up any container – hasn’t changed since containerization began in the early 1960s. With new, larger ships unloading as many as 5,000 containers at a time, the random-access process is creating efficiency challenges at major ports around the world.”
Free-flow will enable bulk delivery of large groups of containers belonging to the same cargo owner, trucking company or logistics firm.
“To keep cargo flowing quickly as ships grow ever larger, we need to change how we move containers,” Wargo said. “Doing the same things incrementally faster won’t solve congestion pressures.
“How congested would LAX or JFK be if every taxi came for one specific person rather than picking up the first in line? That’s how the current system works,” he said, at the container terminals.
Under the Free-Flow program, participating terminals, trucking companies and cargo owners will be able to target a block of containers and have a group of truckers pick up any one of those containers from the stack. Arrangements would be made to expedite trucks participating in the process.
Wargo said the program, which is being tested at two terminals today, is targeting groups of about 80-100 containers with common cargo owners.
The idea is that a group of truckers could be organized to come into a terminal, take any one of the 80 containers to its destination, and then return for another load. The entire group of containers would be evacuated from the terminal in a single shift.
Instead of digging through a pile of containers to find a particular box, the terminal would be able to pull the nearest box going to a single customer, such as Walmart, Target and Home Depot, and load it onto a drayage truck.
Under the current system, when terminals unload containers from arriving ships they pile them into stacks in the order they come off the ship. When trucks arrive and request a specific container, it has to be located and dug out of a stack that can be four or five containers high and six deep. Container-handling equipment like rubber-tired gantry cranes (RTGs) must move an average of three containers to dig a specific one out of the stack and deliver it to a waiting truck. As a result, one RTG can deliver an average of only eight to 10 containers per hour. Using the free-flow process, a top-handler crane is expected to deliver as many as 20 containers per hour.
PierPass said it is reasonable to expect that 20-30 percent of cargo arriving in the two ports may be arriving in large quantities that would be amenable to the process.
He said the program requires coordination by the terminal operator, trucking company, and cargo owner, but would result in "less delays and higher productivity."
"We are starting to run some tests and sample runs to see how productive it is, and do some analysis on productivity gains," Wargo said. He said it is about three-times as productive as the normal way of handling cargo. The program will initially be tested during night shifts.
The program is attractive to trucking companies, because they might be able to greatly boost the number of containers a driver can pick up from a terminal during a single shift. He said where drivers commonly make two or three pickups a night, drivers operating under Free Flow bringing containers to a near-dock facility might be able to do 9-11 pickups.
PierPass said "trial runs of free-flow have shown a range of results and are helping terminal operators and trucking companies learn how to best structure the process. At best, trucking companies have reported turn times as short as 11 minutes, compared to about 45 minutes for a typical transaction."
Wargo said all 13 terminals in the ports are interested in the program and SSA and West Basin Container Terminal are testing it.
During the tests, he said terminals have had good experiences in some cases and "not so good experiences due to extenuating circumstances such as chassis shortages."
Wargo said at this point there would be no special charge for containers moving under Free-Flow.
"Right now we're just looking at it as a way to enhance our delivery process. There is no added cost," he said.
PierPass said the tests are aimed at measuring the impact on cargo velocity and costs, and learn what methods and resources are needed to run free-flow successfully. If the testing demonstrates significantly positive results, free-flow is expected to become a regular part of terminal operations.