Thursday, April 5, 2018

From Ocean Freight to Urban Logistics the Trend is for Night Time Working

The Vampire Economy Begins to Bite
Shipping News Feature
US – UK – It seems the world is becoming ever more aware that very often the best time to conduct logistics operations is during the hours of darkness when traffic levels tend to be much lower. This nocturnal habit is a natural progression as pressure on the supply chain rises and is affecting fields from ocean freight consolidations to urban cycle movements because of the ever increasing amount of online shopping, and can be clearly illustrated by two vastly differing examples.

In the US the latest figures released by the Port of Oakland show more truckers now visit the facilities at night than at any time in its 91-year history. Oakland’s largest marine terminal said this week that it is seeing between 1,500 and 2,000 daily truck transactions after sundown, that’s up from 800 just a year ago.

The port management says that opening night gates has curbed daytime congestion, this despite the fact that Oakland’s containerised cargo volume broke records in 2017. Additionally the city streets and freeways have benefited by the drop in daytime traffic whilst cargo owners have seen accelerated deliveries and truck drivers, many being owner operators, get to boost their incomes simply by being able to move more boxes each week.

Oakland International Container Terminal (OICT) introduced night gates two years ago to take pressure off overburdened daytime operations. It was the first terminal to open for a second shift in Oakland history. Nearby TraPac marine terminal has now been testing night gates as well. Freight hauliers use the gates for everything from picking up loaded import containers to dropping off refrigerated exports.

According to OICT, the second busiest cargo terminal in the whole of the US and handling 60-70% of all containerised cargo in the port, truck transaction times have averaged 60-to-90 minutes since night gates began. In the past, a driver could wait 2-to-3 hours to conduct business. The terminal said night gates account for about 30% of its daily transaction volume. Jim Rice, General Manager at Oakland International Container Terminal, illustrated the advantages thus:

“We’ve spread out the truck traffic and improved the drivers’ turn times. Night gates have allowed us to operate nine shifts a week with a domino effect: there’s less traffic and congestion and it’s easier for cargo owners to pick up their shipments.”

Since 2017, a number of other US ports have followed Oakland’s lead by introducing night hours. Ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach said they’re studying Oakland as they consider revamping night operations. Oakland International Container Terminal has levied a $30 fee on all container loads to finance night operations with the fee used primarily to cover labour costs, and according to Kevin Bulger, Chief Operating Officer at San Francisco head quartered freight forwarder Apex Maritime, and one of the largest cargo shippers in Oakland, ‘the best $30 I ever spent’.

Meanwhile in the UK the phenomenal growth of internet shopping has led to a seismic shift in the way goods are traded. Witness for example the incoming HMRC scheme regarding the introduction of ‘Fulfilment Houses’ to assimilate and distribute goods bought overseas to combat the scandal of around £1.5 billion VAT being avoided each year by unscrupulous sellers.

The need for faster distribution of an ever increasing numbers of packages has led to night shifts at all the central parcel hubs becoming the norm, but now the trend for end user deliveries and collections during the hours of darkness is another fast growing phenomena. Problems with night time deliveries persist, not every company has the ability, or indeed the budget, to work through the night and there is always the spectre of noise pollution with trucks of every size entering, loading and unloading, and leaving previously silent city streets.

This trend has now been dubbed ‘The Vampire Economy’ and with one in every three Britons admitting to shopping late at night a lot more than they did five years ago, it’s not just receiving goods but more outlets staying open to accommodate the new trend. One company which has taken a serious look at where things are going is e-commerce outfit ParcelHero which has undertaken a new study ‘A Monster Opportunity: Delivering the Vampire Economy reveals why 2018 will be the year vampire economy deliveries finally take flight.’ ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT, comments:

” The new witching hour is not midnight, but 10.18pm. That’s the peak time for nocturnal purchases according to Barclaycard. But 10pm is also the time Amazon Prime Now, Argos and Tesco Now deliveries pack up for the night. Clearly there’s a gap between what consumers want, and what delivery options are now actually available.

“Night time deliveries can reduce daytime congestion and pollution. And our new study reveals logistics companies are fast developing Quiet Delivery techniques that mean delivering items at night doesn’t need to disturb neighbours: thanks to quieter vans, using lowered voices, quiet cages and racks and ‘hush-hush’ reversing alarms.”

Obviously one of the major problems delivery companies face is getting drivers to work at night, particularly in the UK at a time the country is facing a severe shortage of skilled drivers. As in California however where those Oakland truckers like the combination of quieter streets and higher income there is a definite move toward people in the gig economy arranging their jobs around their lives as opposed to the other way round.

Photo: Courtesy of Scania.