Oakland's Push For Truck Fluidity Means Quick Turns For Shippers

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The Port of Oakland is far from the biggest market for container trucking. But it aims to be among the most efficient for drivers.

Oakland, the fourth-largest port on the North American West Coast, saw container volumes rise 5 percent last year to 2.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), its best growth since 2010. Overall, the ports from Vancouver to Los Angeles/Long Beach saw total container volume growth last year of just under 4 percent.

As ports to the south sometimes struggled with the import surge of 2018, Oakland took in some of the overflow, said Mike Zampa, communications director for the port. 

While delays were inevitable due to last year’s one-off event, Zampa said that Oakland is “a vastly improved place operationally” than it was previously. 

Oakland is heavily dependent on drayage, with up to 90 percent of containers leaving the port on a truck. The catchment area for most of those truck moves is northern and central California and western Nevada. Between 6,000 and 7,000 trucks call on the port on a regular basis.  

Zampa said that truck drivers would see turn times of two hours or more during previous peak periods. But thanks to improvements across Oakland terminals, drivers “are looking at turn times between 60 and 70 minutes,” Zampa said.

Delays and driver detention costs hit many shippers last year due to port congestion. But Oakland aims to give shippers the latest information on potential delays through its new turn time portal, becoming the first U.S. port to display truck turn times publicly. 

Andy Garcia, executive vice president of drayage carrier GSC Logistics, said the turn time portal is a step toward making more intelligent decisions about where to dispatch drivers.

“Oakland today is the most efficient port for truck drivers and is helping them to use the marine terminals as efficiently as possible,” Garcia said. 

(Source: SONAR)

Garcia credits the investments and expansions made at the port’s two primary container terminals, Oakland International Container Terminal (OICT) and the TraPac Oakland terminal, for the efficiency gains. OICT completed a $14 million project to extend the height of four ship-to-shore cranes last year, and plans for another 19-acre expansion of its 271-acre site.

In January 2019, TraPac completed a two-year project to double its size from 66 acres to 123 acres, along with adding a third wharf for large container ships and adding three new ship-to-shore cranes.

“The combination of technology and real estate is proving to be incredibly effective in alleviating wait times at the ports,” said Mike Caplan, regional vice president of northern California operations at NEXT Trucking. “Oakland has done tremendous work in making it easier for drivers to gain access to loads.”

Even with the expansions, the port of Oakland is also easy to navigate, Garcia said. The biggest share of international container volumes have consolidated down to OICT, TraPac and the Everport Terminal. Each of the three are only half mile apart from each other.

“Having to only deal with three terminals is an absolute dream,” Garcia said.

Along with the physical plant, operational changes also make Oakland more fluid for drivers. The introduction of an appointment system for drivers and the availability of off-peak gate hours at the terminals have made the port an easier place to drive, Garcia said.

“As we get into peak season, (truck supply) may get tight, but the fact that the terminals have gotten so efficient has helped create a more productive and flud environment for drivers,” Garcia said.

Truckers are also able to take advantage of off-dock container yards for picking up lower priority freight. Shippers Transport Express runs a container shuttle service that takes up to 400 containers per day off of the port to an adjacent 20-acre container yard where drivers can pick up a container the next day. The dray-off site aims for a truck turn time of 10 minutes.   

The result of these efforts “is that truckers are able to make more turns in a day,” Zampa added. 

Garcia agrees that off-dock container yards allow for better driver efficiency and more frequent truck turns. GSC runs a 15-acre near-dock container yard for line drivers to quickly pick up a container for delivery or drop-off an empty without having to go to the terminal.  

“Our goal is to do everything humanly possible to give drivers two turns a day,” Garcia said.  

Also unique among most West Coast ports, Oakland’s loaded container mix is split about equally between imports and exports. What that means for drivers is that “there are lots of opportunities for dual transactions” to bring in an export load and take out an import load, Zampa said.  

Oakland is the largest gateway for agricultural exports from California’s Central Valley. As such, much of the logistics needs are centered around serving this market. 

Oakland opened the French Camp inland container depot located 70 miles away in the Central Valley in 2017. The depot gives drivers the option of dropping off an empty container and returning to the port more quickly for a loaded container.    

Closer to the port, Lineage Logistics, the largest owner of refrigerated warehousing space, and Dreisbach Enterprises opened Cool Port Oakland in November 2018. Cool Port, which is housed on 25 -acres of port property, has 90 truck doors and can send 1 million tons of temperature-controlled freight through the port annually.     

“That’s a growing market for us,” Zampa said. “Refrigerated containers are a big segment of the volume coming through the Port of Oakland because there is huge demand for our farm goods.”

Outside of managing freight, the port is looking at other steps to improve truck efficiency. The city approved a truck management plan that aims to give drivers better signage for overweight corridors and truck parking in Oakland. The port is also in negotiations for an eight-acre truck service center for fueling, repairs, and overnight parking.

One area where the port could improve would be in chassis supply, Garcia said. GSC has built up a fleet of 700 chassis to handle containers. But in periods of high demand or when an ocean contract specifies a certain chassis provider, Garcia said.

“Once peak hits, no one drayage provider has enough chassis,” Garcia said. 

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