FROM a cargo owner’s perspective, Port Botany sets a national benchmark in efficiency as a “waiting time detention free port” giving freight forwarders and importers predictability in delivery times and cost.
This has largely been achieved via the Port Botany Landside Improvement (PBLIS) regulation which prescribes that compensation is payable to or from stevedores and transport operators for failure in meeting the Mandatory Standards.
In the event that delays occur at the stevedore in excess of prescribed Truck Turnaround Times (TTT), the stevedore must financially compensate the transport operator. In contrast, at other Australian ports, costs caused by extensive TTT are either absorbed by the transport operator or passed on to their client freight forwarder or importer.
In another important distinction as compared to other ports, PBLIS has also made stevedores accountable for the queues that occur before the gate with TTT measured from when trucks enter the port precinct.
As a part of the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA) and Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) combined submission to the Federal Inquiry into Freight & Supply Chain Priorities, it was recommended that the Inquiry review the outcomes achieved by the NSW Government via the PBLIS reforms and examine the opportunity of working with other state governments in introducing similar mandatory standards.
While PBLIS has generated clear benefits, the down side is that it appears as though stevedores have, understandably, become risk-averse and commonly commit to supplying the minimum prescribed number of slots per hourly zone to ensure that they can meet TTT. This appears to be one of many contributing factors resulting in import containers to be “staged” with less road deliveries direct from the stevedore to the importer during regular business hours. Staging occurs via rail to intermodal terminals or via road transport to an operator’s holding yard with a secondary delivery to the importer.
From a cargo owner’s perspective, more transparency is required in the existing slot booking process that currently has restricted access to those only that have a Carrier Access Agreement with the stevedores.
To the credit of Transport for NSW, a free mobile device application has been released providing freight forwarders and importers visibility to any approvals for slot reductions, TTT, PBLIS penalties and unforseen events. As this functionality is enhanced we see considerable potential to replicate a similar service at other container ports.
While stevedores service levels are generally improving, extensive TTT continue to be reported at particular LCL deconsolidation depots and at empty container parks (ECPs). This can also be a reflection of the lack of capacity at these facilities to handle peak volumes that perhaps they would be able to handle if they were better organised and had more handling resources.
ECPs have deployed sophisticated “notification” systems however some claim that poor compliance by particular transport operators in meeting allocated times for empty container returns has affected operational efficiency.
Some might say that this is a natural human reaction to finding that there is no capacity in the system for the particular ECP at the desired time of day, so the transport operator take advantage of what the system allows them to do – make the notification and simply send the truck anyway.
In response, we anticipate that ECPs will progressively implement “disciplines” to ensure compliance with slot bookings.
On a positive note, one of the notification system providers now offers drivers the ability to be automatically “pre validated” several kilometres from the ECP gate. The Containerchain “eGate” app allows trucks to be automatically processed without stopping and interacting with any ECP gate or kiosk. Importantly, this gives the transport operator a chance to rectify any problems in a timely manner and significantly improves turnaround times.
This solution has been introduced at selected ECPs around the country and we expect an increase in uptake in the near future.
Let’s hope that we can see a continuation of industry innovation and voluntary compliance in meeting systems rules otherwise we may need more regulation to ensure that stakeholders meet prescribed service levels.
Paul Zalai is director at Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) and an advocate of the freight and trade sectors.