Port of Virginia Expands Appointments

Feb 21, 2020 9:20:09 AM

Port Authority expands mandatory appointment requirements following continued reduction in turn times.

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As published on JOC.com (see full article)

The Port of Virginia will require trucking companies to have appointments to pick up or drop off containers through 3 p.m. beginning Dec. 9, extending the mandatory window an additional hour and leaving only two hours at the end of the day for unfettered access.

The initial plan was to begin the new hours on Dec. 2, but port officials pushed back the change because of the Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Appointments have been well received by trucking companies after a rocky start in March 2018. Even a group of truck drivers have come around to understanding the merits. These drivers were initially worried the appointment system would harm local draymen, who are paid by the job and depend on easy access in and out of the terminal several times each day.

Today, however, nearly three out of four trucks visiting Norfolk International Terminals (NIT) book an appointment and about two-thirds going to Virginia International Gateway (VIG) do so. The port cites this number as a reason why the terminals now open at 5 a.m. rather than 3 a.m.

“We don’t need to be open as long because we’ve gained the operation efficiencies of the appointment system,” said John Reinhart, CEO of the Virginia Port Authority. “We are constantly talking to the motor carrier community and I think we will discuss in 2020 whether to extend it another hour [to 4 p.m.] but still have an open hour at the end of the day.”

The port authority, however, has also been clear they have to be sensitive to local draymen who get paid by the job and need flexibility to go in and out of the terminal as necessary, so all-day mandatory appointments will require a lengthy debate.

Innovative ideas appear to be working

Reservations systems are one of several tools being used in North America to bring fluidity to terminals. Port Houston, the Port of Montreal, and several Class I railroads provide an option for trucking companies to file paperwork ahead of time, thereby allowing the driver to use an express check-in lane rather than talking to an agent, similar to the difference between electronic tolling and traditional toll booths. Both options have been successful in early phases and will be used on more transactions.

Turn times in VIG hover at about 35 minutes, far quicker than a year ago when the number was closer to 50 to 55 minutes. Part of the improved experience, however, is the completion of the VIG expansion project. Trucker turn times at NIT remain close to the 50-minute port authority target while construction is ongoing to double the container yard capacity, upgrade the berth, add new ship-to-shore cranes, and bring in semi-automated gantry cranes to run the 30 stacks.

Skeptics are now believers

Marguerite Bates-Frier, president of the Tidewater Motor Truck Association (TMTA), said the port authority worked closely with trucking leaders and delayed the additional hour of mandatory appointments until now to avoid any disruption during the peak season.

“Appointments provide a degree of reliability and, in turn, improved customer service,” said Bates-Frier, regional vice president of XPO’s drayage division in the market. “There are truckers and customers that do not have the luxury of notification time, [so] this will shorten their window of opportunity to perform last-minute same-day moves. Yet overall the consensus is [we] would rather enter the port with an appointment than without.” 

She said the TMTA has worked closely with the port to gain efficiencies for both sides, and trucks and beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) are now reaping the benefits even more so than six months ago.

George Berry, who administers a Facebook group called “For Truckers by Truckers,” said the additional hour for appointments is acceptable. 

Berry’s group initially opposed mandatory appointments because they were unable to reserve enough slots to maintain their prior productivity. Because drivers are paid by the job, the ability to enter and exit the terminals several times a day is critical to their paychecks.

“I don't believe the motor carrier community would have much pushback regarding this change,” Berry told JOC.com. “We are seeing more appointment slots [be]come available since our last discussion and productivity has been moderate overall.” 

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