Traffic congestion is a common and costly problem in and around seaports and intermodal terminals. It delays shipments, generates pollution from idling vehicles, and costs truckers money by restricting the number of runs they can make in a day. Much of that congestion can be attributed to drayage carriers picking up or returning empty containers. If those "empty" trips could be reduced or eliminated, importers, exporters, and the carriers and ports that serve them—not to mention residents living in nearby areas—would greatly benefit.
It can be done, contends Chris Mazza, senior vice president of business development for International Asset Systems (IAS). IAS has developed InterTurn, an automated "street turn" solution that allows truckers to hand off empty containers to other motor carriers without entering a terminal. Under this system, a trucking company that has picked up an empty box from, say, an importer posts the availability and location of the empty on the InterTurn website. Another carrier seeking an empty container for an export move in the same area can electronically request a street turn. The ocean carrier that owns the container must approve the transaction. If the request is approved, the truckers can meet at a mutually agreed-upon location to exchange the container and its chassis. The transaction is documented electronically.
On a larger scale, these triangular swaps create what IAS calls a "virtual container yard." The concept has proved successful at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where reducing carbon emissions is a high priority. "If you're going to eliminate diesel particulate matter from drayage, you have to reduce the number of miles driven," Mazza says. Eliminating the empty leg of a round trip does exactly that while also reducing the number of containers requiring storage at terminals, cutting the number of gate moves, and enabling better utilization of containers, trucks, and drivers.
Skeptics might wonder whether street turns could mean a higher likelihood that damage to the boxes would go unreported, since the empty equipment is not being checked in and inspected at a container yard. Mazza says that risk is slight because participating truckers must be registered and validated as part of an IAS customer's network (IAS's customers are mostly ocean carriers and third-party logistics service providers). They also must be signatories to an equipment interchange agreement that specifies their liability and holds them accountable for damage.
Click here to read more about the "virtual container yard" and how it works.