Delays at Ports of Auckland could cause cost increases

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Delays in collecting containers from the Ports of Auckland are costing the road freight transport industry and their customers, and end consumers could ultimately pay the price.

The introduction of automated straddle carriers by the port has reduced the working area at the container terminal, and queue jumping is creating delays of up to three hours for pick-ups.

National Road Carriers CEO David Aitken says the issue has been building for years but recent increases in wait times mean the industry may have to act and charge customers for waiting time.

While there are calls for the port to be transparent around its booking system and not allow drivers in without a booking, there is agreement that the industry and customers need to be more organised and give at least 24 hours notice for container pick ups. Costs are increasing and passing these on to customers is becoming a real possibility.

“It’s been happening in Australia for a long time,” says Top Tranz Ltd managing director Marcus de Kort. “It has become an acceptable part of the costs of doing business there.”

Philpott Airfreight Ltd managing director Barry Mackenzie says the delays have become the norm. “It’s very frustrating. Sometimes the boats are late arriving, but there is no space to store containers. Yes, there will be a bit more room when the updated automation process has finished, but the freight volume is increasing all the time.”

Mackenzie said there were often queues of trucks while straddle carriers to load the containers on to them were sitting idle without drivers, compounding the delay problem.

The port operates a booking system so transport companies can reserve a time to pick up a nominated container. Only so many slots are available each hour, with some flexibility allowed due to Auckland’s increasing traffic congestion.

“But if the system starts running behind time it can never catch up,” says de Kort. “If a truck sits idle for two to three hours its work schedule for the rest of the day is disrupted and it can’t meet other commitments during the day.”

While larger companies had more resources to juggle against hold-ups at the port, smaller fleets could often not deploy a different truck to do a job originally scheduled for the one held up at the port.

De Kort says the problem is certainly worse leading up to Christmas, but when the port reduced staff numbers at off-peak periods the problem has continued.

With exports expected to reach their annual peak volume early in 2018 the delays at the port are expected to continue. Complicating the process are the different booking systems used by the port, the Metro Port at Te Papapa, and the six empty container depots around the city where containers are stored in between use.