Truck hinterland traffic

Delays at ports at record levels

A variety of factors are currently exerting a negative influence on ship handling in the seaports. This subsequently also affects the onward transport of goods by road. Find out here what effects this has and how they can be countered.

According to the Global Liner Performance Report by the consultancy Sea-Intelligence, only 40.4 per cent of all ships reached their destination port on time in March 2021. The average delay per ship was 6.2 days – the highest value in ten years. This worsens the handling situation in ports and consequently hinders the organisation and implementation of hinterland transport.

The sometimes extreme delays of more than two weeks are the most important reason for the handling bottlenecks. The effects of the Corona crisis, the catch-up effects following the recovery of the global economy and the resulting shortage of (empty) containers have already put pressure on maritime shipping. Periods of bad weather and the Brexit effects have not improved the situation in Europe at all. The after-effects of the blockade of the Suez Canal by the container giant "Ever Given" put additional strain on the complicated situation in the ports. And this is inevitably felt in the processes of hinterland transport, whether by barge, rail or truck.

Waiting times despite slot booking procedure

For trucks, the bottlenecks result in considerable waiting times at the interface between sea and road. Currently, shippers in some ports have to reckon with two and a half hours to deliver containers to the port terminals or to pick up new cargo. At peak times or after weekends, for example, this "time window of standstill" can even increase to five to six hours. Nevertheless, the ports try to carry out ship clearances as reliably and efficiently as possible. In order to avoid additional delays, they are increasingly relying on a slot booking procedure that better manages the incoming traffic for handling capacities.

However, since the demand for available slots often exceeds the capacities, especially during peak traffic times and days, this reservation is often no longer possible two days in advance. For the ports and other waiting trucks, it is then all the more annoying when booked-in trucks do not show up.

The consequences for all those involved in hinterland transport are drastic, because the waiting times interrupt otherwise scheduled supply chains. This makes route planning and implementation more difficult. The additional costs incurred by rebooking shipments and ever new fees or surcharges for so-called shipping guarantees also play a considerable role in the calculation. A lack of performance in this case results in dissatisfaction on the part of the client and, in the worst case, even the loss of a customer.

Good organisation alleviates crisis phenomena selectively

How can these bottlenecks be dealt with in the best possible way? First of all, it remains of great importance to be well informed about the situation in the respective ports. By planning ahead, peak times at the terminals can be avoided or slots can be booked well in advance. It is advisable to keep a close eye on the digital offers of the ports or platforms that communicate disruptions, bottlenecks and waiting times. So in this case, too, knowledge is power in order to regain the ability to act.

It is equally important for forwarders and transport companies to involve the shippers and not least the recipients of the goods in the flow of information. On the one hand, this ensures trust and, on the other hand, it may allow all participants in the overall process to contribute their own know-how or additional information with helpful suggestions for changes that can straighten out the process and reveal possible optimisation potential.

The most important tips in brief:

  • Use digital services for information on delays
  • Avoiding peak times
  • Book slots as early as possible
  • Cancelling slots when they are not available, to make room for other demanders
  • Analysis and assessment of challenges
  • Efficient communication flow between all parties involved
  • Pooling of respective knowledge in order to act together in a flexible manner

Customer satisfaction as the highest priority

It often sounds easier said than done: but planning for many eventualities and learning from experience increases the options for action in this context. Fundamental developments in important transhipment centres such as the seaports, as they have been recently, cannot be negated for daily operations.

But a viable management-by-exception approach and transparent communication, not least with the client, help to positively influence the customers' expectations. Delays, especially those for which the transport company is not responsible, are less likely to be complained about if they are adequately communicated and justified.

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