Appointment system solves Californian port traffic congestion problem


The second-generation of a program to reduce freight traffic from the roads of southern California has proved its success in the first year of operations, removing queues and overspill from trucks picking up containers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

PierPass Inc., a not-for-profit company created by the 12 marine terminal operators at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, launched the OffPeak program in 2005 to reduce severe cargo-related congestion on local streets and highways around the facilities, while also addressing issues such as congestion, air quality and security. Using a congestion pricing model, PierPass charges a Traffic Mitigation Fee (TMF) on weekday daytime freight moves to incentivize cargo owners to use the OffPeak shifts. Since its introduction 14 years ago, the OffPeak program has nearly doubled the potential capacity of the ports and has taken more than 35 million truck trips out of daytime California traffic and diverted them to less congested nights and weekends.

The OffPeak program was restructured in November 2018, with the revised program, informally called ‘PierPass 2.0’, reducing traffic congestion by spreading cargo movement across two shifts, using appointments rather than the daytime-only TMF used in the original program. In the year since the launch of the appointments-based system, long late-afternoon queues have been eliminated, and ample appointment opportunities are available for each container. Terminals have also been working with the trucking community and other stakeholders to add new types of appointment-based services to help truckers achieve greater efficiency, taking advantage of the scalability and flexibility they gained by switching to the new system.

Under the common business rules of the revised OffPeak program, all terminals provide appointments for picking up import containers, and over the past year, many terminals have also begun offering appointments for dropping off export and empty containers. These services make it easier to arrange dual transactions, with a single truck trip dropping off one container and picking up another one. In another operational improvement, most terminals are now allowing same-day cancelling and rebooking of appointments if an appointment is available through software modifications. One terminal has also begun allowing trucking companies to make appointments for picking up containers several days before the ship docks, allowing truckers to better plan their workloads. By providing additional shifts during off-peak hours, PierPass has allowed the Ports to make better use of their infrastructure and investments, allowing cargo volume to grow without negatively impacting local traffic conditions.

“Terminals continue offering at least two peak shift and two off-peak shift appointments for each container prior to free time expiration, providing multiple options for each pickup,” said John Cushing, president and CEO of PierPass. “Over the past year, many terminals have also introduced new services. All of this gives the cargo community an enhanced traffic mitigation system, which is running smoothly one-year in. One of the advantages we expected from shifting to an appointments-based system was increased flexibility, allowing terminals to continue innovating to improve efficiency and meet evolving market needs. We are very pleased and encouraged to see this expectation being achieved.”

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Adam joined the company in 1994, and has been News Editor of TTT since 2009. In his other role as Circulation Manager, he helped create the original Traffic Technology International distribution list 23 years ago, and has been working on it ever since. Outside of work, he is a keen fisherman, runs a drumming band, and plays an ancient version of cricket.