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Night hauling by port trucks to ease traffic jams

Container trucks are now loading at port terminals at night and that
Container trucks are now loading at port terminals at night and that's expected to ease congestion on Metro Vancouver roads during peak times of the day.
— image credit: Port Metro Vancouver

Motorists may find fewer big trucks clogging their morning commute as a result of a new strategy to move more containers through port terminals at night.

Deltaport and the two container terminals in Vancouver are now loading container trucks until 1 a.m. after the July 2 introduction of a second shift starting at 4:30 p.m.

And a new $50 reservation fee now charged during the day has created a financial incentive for trucks to instead haul containers in and out of the port at night, when there's no extra charge.

The changes are part of the negotiated settlement of the container truckers' strike earlier this year, and aim to address chronic congestion and delays at the ports.

United Trucking Association spokesman Manny Dhillon predicts up to 75 per cent of the region's 1,500 container trucks will shift to night hauling to avoid the new daytime fee.

That may take some traffic pressure off the Massey Tunnel and the Knight Street Bridge during the morning commute, Dhillon said, but added it may mean more trucks rumbling at night through some residential neighbourhoods.

Port Metro Vancouver vice-president of planning and operations Peter Xotta confirmed there was an immediate "very significant" shift to use of the night gates, adding the port hopes container movements will split roughly 50-50 between the two shifts.

"This has all sorts of benefits in reducing the pulsing of truck traffic in the early morning when a lot of folks are on the roads commuting to work, and during the lunch period," Xotta said. "We think that's a positive."

He said reduced truck congestion on roads should be most noticeable at peak periods approaching Deltaport and on routes such as Knight Street and McGill Avenue in Vancouver.

Xotta said they'll watch for impacts from noise and truck traffic in neighbourhoods.

Terminals have had extended hours in the past on an sporadic basis but it never took off because most retailers and warehouses didn't accept night-time container deliveries.

Their appetite for the change remains an area of doubt.

"Where are these container truck drivers going to bring these containers in the middle of the night?" asked Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor spokesman for unionized container truckers. "Larger retailers may have 24 hours a day warehouse facilities, but most don't."

Xotta said he's confident the consistency and certainty of the new system will win them over.

Growth is also a consideration.

Port Metro Vancouver expects container shipments to rise by around five per cent a year for the forseeable future, Xotta said.

"We believe this is the right step for us at this time."

The $50 reservation fee charged by the terminals partly offsets their extra operating costs to load and unload trucks at night.

B.C. Trucking Association president Louise Yako said the move to open terminals for 16 hours a day is "probably overkill in terms of capacity that is not necessary" and may drive up the cost of shipping through Port Metro Vancouver.

Her association and others had favoured a more modest extension of port hours.

Unifor is also concerned trucking firms may try to download reservation fees to drivers.

All port trucks now tracked by GPS

Another change has been the mandatory installation of GPS units in all container trucks licensed to use the port.

Half the trucks already had GPS transponders installed, but the rest got them over the last three months.

As part of the strike settlement, truckers are to be paid a credit when terminal delays result in them waiting too long. Transponder data determines when terminals must pay truckers that fee.

Xotta said $1 million in penalties has already been paid out under the new system.

Port officials and terminal operators predict the reforms will improve port efficiency.

The GPS-equipped trucks can be precisely tracked, helping terminal managers brace for changes in demand before trucks arrive outside the gate.

Xotta said the GPS data can also be used to answer questions and address concerns raised by municipalities about port truck traffic.

If neighbourhood concerns are raised about trucks that aren't using authorized truck routes, the port will now be able to check compliance and pursue individual trucking companies to correct the problem.

GPS data could also shed light on container trucks' use of tolled versus untolled bridges, or whether rigs are being parked in improper areas, Xotta said.

Trucking companies will also get access to the data to track the performance of their trucks.

Peter Xotta is vice-president of planning and operations for Port Metro Vancouver.

 

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