The Current State of Cargo Volume

Industry leaders have all agreed – international trade will continue to grow in 2011. However, growth in cargo volume in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is proving to be modest.

While historically, we have started to see cargo volumes pick up in May, volume has not returned enough to warrant reinstating the one PierPASS OffPeak shift that several marine terminal operators suspended earlier this year.

MTOs are continuing to take steps to adapt to market conditions and match fluctuations in cargo volume, helping to ensure the vitality of the OffPeak program.

As those numbers rise, the MTOs will review and reinstate gates as appropriate to ensure that congestion is not a problem in the ports.

Turn Time Study: Behind the Scenes

We recently had the chance to catch up with Dr. Val Noronha, President of Digital Geographic Research Corporation. We asked Dr. Noronha about his recently conducted Turn Time Study, commissioned to provide metrics for tracking and monitoring truck turn times.

Here’s what he had to say:

Q: Explain the methodology of the study – how were trucks monitored as they entered and exited the ports?
A: We relied on our archive of METRIS℠ data, which are GPS tracks gathered from drayage trucks that frequent the ports and move containers to destinations in the Los Angeles basin and beyond. GPS gives us location and it gives us time, which allows us to create very detailed trajectories of vehicles and to follow them as they go about their business. The GPS devices received real-time data 24/7 from the trucks from May to October 2010.
We monitored between 10,000 and 15,000 truck trips to port terminals each month, which was enough to drill down into segments of time during the course of the day, as well as by terminal.

Q: What was the sample size of the study?
A: The sample was 250 trucks serving the Ports of San Pedro. We had a very heartening response from the trucking industry. We had large and small companies involved, and most of the members of the Clean Trucks Coalition participated.

Q: There were several key terms that were defined in order to conduct this study – tell us more about this.
A: An important part of our study was defining time intervals, specifically queue time, terminal time and visit time. 

  • Queue time begins when a truck arrives in the queue outside a terminal and ends when it passes the entry pedestal.
  • Terminal time is the duration of truck dwell inside the terminal, including one or more transactions conducted at wheeled storage, grounded storage, chassis yard, help desk and other service areas within the terminal.
  • Visit time is the sum of queue time and terminal time.

Q: Why do you believe this study is important for the ports of LA and Long Beach?
A: These are enormous ports – they have a tremendous strategic role in the local, regional and national economies and they move close to $100 million worth of goods per hour.

The marine terminal operators (MTOs), ports, truckers and drivers are all businesses. They are competitive, but at the same time, they are a team, and they need to work in sync for their own success. All members of the port community need to understand each other’s experiences. A trucker needs to understand what it costs to operate a terminal, and the MTOs need to understand the experience of a trucker.

In terms of the focus of the study, we need to distinguish between forests and trees. Where are the big delays? Where are the small delays? What are the factors causing them? If we try something new, such as opening a night gate, we need to monitor the impacts.

This study sends a message to the customers of the ports. We’re not content being the No. 1 port on the continent. We’re going to use innovative technologies to stay ahead, we’re going to take our pulse regularly, and we’re going to improve what can be improved.

Q: What are some of the key findings from the research you conducted?
A: The periods around the noon, evening and night breaks are the primary concern. Service times spike, and these periods will need to be examined to ensure steady productivity. Also the hour or two leading up to 6 p.m., which is when we found that some trucks linger outside the gates until the traffic mitigation fee (TMF) lifts.

There are certain times of the day that are less busy than others. 3 p.m. is the magic hour. Visit time is lowest if you enter the terminals at 3 p.m. There is a lot of room for increased productivity at night.

Other than that, the study revealed that there is plenty of capacity in the ports. A surge in truck volume causes just a slight ripple in visit time.
A very important aspect, in my view, is that the parties have come together to address this issue cooperatively. That is huge. That communication opens up possibilities in terms of strategies that we can use in the future.

Groundbreaking Study Provides First Comprehensive Measurement of Truck Queuing and Visit Times at the Ports

PierPass Inc. and Ability/Tri-Modal Transportation Services Inc. today released the results of the Turn Time Study that uses Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking to provide a common language and set of facts that the port community can use to discuss truck queuing and terminal visit times at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

This study helps the port community discuss visit times based on factual information rather than on anecdotes, and provides the community a common set of metrics.

It evaluates three time periods: queue time, spent waiting in line outside the gates; terminal time, measuring from the entry gate to the exit gate; and visit time, the sum of queue and terminal time.

Key findings of the study include:

  • The median queue time in October was 20 minutes and the terminal time 31 minutes, for a total median visit time of 51 minutes.
  • The vast majority of visits take less than two hours: 27% are under 30 minutes, 58% under an hour, 75% under one and a half hours, and 86% under two hours. A further 12% of visits take two to four hours, and 1% to 2% of visits take between four and eight hours. 
  • About 91% of queue times were under an hour.
  • The median queue and visit times include trucks that choose to arrive early to wait for the 6:00 p.m. OffPeak to start.
  • The study found that daytime visits are shortest for trucks that arrive at 15:00. Median visit time for trucks arriving between 15:00 and 16:00 was 45 minutes, while for trucks arriving between 17:00 and 18:00 median visit time was 90 minutes, reflecting the 17:00 meal break.

When cargo volumes rebounded in the spring and summer of 2010, terminal operators opened additional service hours to hold down congestion. Those investments proved effective: while cargo volumes increased 6% from May to October, visit time decreased 13%, the study showed.

Stay tuned to for a video about the study, as well as an interview with Dr. Noronha, president of Digital Geographic Research Corp., which conducted the study. Read the Turn Time Study Executive Summary.

Steady Upward Track for 2011

Supply chain and logistics experts recently gathered for the Port of Long Beach’s annual “Pulse of the Ports: Peak Season Forecast” where they discussed the outlook for the industry in 2011. The general consensus was that international trade will continue to grow in 2011, though it will be modest growth compared to the double digit gains in 2010.

The key to success in 2011, as panelists pointed out, is planning for the future. Just as MTOs have been watching decreasing cargo volumes and responding accordingly, we need to continue to look ahead to ensure we are prepared for the upcoming peak season.

We are continuing to review weekly and monthly cargo volumes, talk to terminal operators and steamship lines about what trends they are seeing, and talk to cargo owners about what their expectations on cargo movements are this season.

As cargo volumes increase, the MTOs will review and reinstate flex gates and the noon hour relief and increase labor as appropriate to ensure that congestion is not a problem during the Summer peak season.

The Port of Long Beach Supports Upcoming Turn Time Study

We recently had the chance to catch up with Don Synder, Director of Trade Relations for the Port of Long Beach.  We asked Don about the Port’s participation in the upcoming  Turn Time Study, commissioned by the Truck Turn Time Stakeholder Group and conducted by Dr. Val Noronha of Digital Geographic Research Corporation to provide metrics for tracking and monitoring truck turn times.

Q: Why did you decide to contribute to funding for the turn time study?

A: Part of the Port of Long Beach’s mission is to facilitate cooperative efforts that result in efficient operations and improved turn-time. Our hope is that the survey will provide factual results with actionable data to help educate the industry on turn times. 

Q: What is the goal of the turn time study?

A: For the Port of Long Beach, the goal of the turn time study is to gain an understanding of the challenges that pose a barrier to improving truck turn times through our terminals.

Q: Why is the study important for the community?

A: Better turn times result in better service to our customers, better compensation for truck drivers, and lower air emissions for our neighbors. Combining efforts to learn more about terminal operations and tracking and reporting turn times will help us provide efficient operations at the ports to better the industry as a whole.

Q: What do you expect will be the results of the study?

A: The Port of Long Beach hopes that the study provides empirical information instead of anecdotal information to identify ways to improve turn times at the ports.  We look forward to communicating factual information to the industry on turn times.

Q: What do you plan to do in response to the data and analysis you receive from the study?

A: The Port of Long Beach plans to use the study data to facilitate cooperative efforts between all industry stakeholders that will result in efficient operations and improved turn-times at our Port terminals.

With OffPeak Program, Ports of LA and Long Beach Offer More Capacity Than Other U.S. Ports

Marine terminal operators in Los Angeles and Long Beach are closely watching turn times and congestion levels to evaluate any impact from the recent OffPeak schedule change. As of yet, we haven’t detected any unusual congestion as a result of the suspension.

Despite the suspension of the fifth shift, PierPASS continues to offer 55 OffPeak gates across 13 terminals, in addition to the 65 daytime gates, for a total of 120 gates per week for cargo pickup and delivery. Prior to the establishment of PierPASS in 2005, there were virtually no extra gates offered at the Ports beyond the regular daytime gates.

We believe that 55 extra gates a week is more than enough to handle current volumes and want to stress that there is still unused capacity during many times of the day and night shifts. The decision to suspend one OffPeak shift was made in light of the traditional seasonal decline in volume,  knowing that there is plenty of unused capacity during both Peak and OffPeak shifts that could absorb a reduction in gates without affecting turn times or congestion, and that the fifth gate would be added back when cargo volumes warrant.

For perspective, let us compare the PierPASS schedule to that of other ports in the United States. The Ports of Seattle, New York, New Jersey, and Miami all offer similar Monday-Friday schedules of approximately 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., including breaks (exact hours differ), with no extra night or weekend gates like those provided by PierPASS in LA and Long Beach. These ports only offer services outside of regular hours with “special agreements” with the Port Authorities. The San Pedro Ports provide 120 shifts – of which 55 are extra gates – for cargo pickup and delivery each week. No other port in the country provides this capacity.

Terminal operators are taking steps to adapt to market conditions during the traditionally slow period of January to April.  We will continue to closely monitor the volumes and adjust the OffPeak schedule as appropriate to ensure the viability of the OffPeak program and will look to reinstate the fifth extra gate when warranted. Please continue to visit the PierPASS website for the latest updates.

OffPeak Gate Suspensions

We want to address recent concerns following the announcement that four additional marine terminal operators at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will suspend one PierPASS OffPeak shift per week. These suspensions are part of the  process for marine terminal operators to continually adapt the number of OffPeak shifts to match fluctuations in cargo volume. The suspensions are a result of the traditional seasonal decline and should not cause further delays at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The MTOs will continue to address issues of congestion and closely monitor cargo volumes with the intention of returning to a fifth PierPASS OffPeak shift when cargo volumes warrant an additional shift. Please stay tuned to for additional updates.

Monitor Terminal Gate Lines in Real Time

Check out PierPASS’s updated live camera feeds showing different marine terminal gates at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The page has been updated with camer feeds for STS and GGS. Click on any of the images to see a larger view. Click refresh on the page to get updated live images from the terminal gates.

We continue to update the page with additional camera views from all terminals to help LMCs monitor congestion levels at the terminal gates.