January 8, 2018 4:00 PM, EST

Off-Site Chassis, Container Operations Can Improve Efficiency, Research Says

Chassis Trac Intermodal via YouTube

WASHINGTON — While it might seem counterintuitive on the surface, truck drivers are more efficient when some container and chassis operations are moved away from the main terminal, according to research unveiled at the Transportation Research Board.

Since 2010, chassis pickup and drop-off locations in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., have begun moving off the grounds of marine terminals as steamship lines divested themselves of the equipment and contracted with third-party equipment lessors. At the Port of New York and New Jersey, terminal operators began to kick out chassis providers in recent years, including APM Terminals forcing Trac Intermodal and DirectChassis Link Inc. to find new locations in late 2017.

The return sites for empty containers also are moving in more cases to off-site locations.

While many would think it’d be more productive to pick up and drop off at a terminal, the opposite may be true.

Shiri by Ari Ashe/Transport Topics

Samaneh Shiri, researcher at the University of South Carolina, found that truck drivers are most productive when there is uniformity on empty containers and chassis rather than discord.

Shiri found that if the import pickup location is at an off-terminal drop yard and the export delivery location is inside the terminal, it still makes sense to stage the chassis and empty container depots outside the terminal.

“What we found is that if we change just the chassis yard outside the terminal, [productivity] decreases 12%. But if we move the empty containers and chassis to a location outside the terminal, the drayage operational time increases 2%. So we can see, the optimal location is to put the empty containers and chassis locations outside the terminals,” Shiri said.

The research found that the most optimal setup was to place at least some portion of the import pickups and export drop-offs away from the main terminal. In all scenarios, drayage productivity improved with an off-site location to handle loaded imports and exports. Out of all the combinations, though, placing the empty container and chassis depots outside the main marine terminal produced the best results: a 9% improvement.

Smith by Ari Ashe/Transport Topics

“We can actually increase overall efficiency by adding additional steps, which would seem counterintertuitive. The off-terminal facilities are much less congested, so it’s easier to move trucks in and out quickly with short turn times,” said Daniel Smith, principal at The Tioga Group, adding that there also is a spillover effect by diverting some traffic away from congested marine terminals.

Key to the success, however, is placing these empty chassis and container depots close to the area where loaded imports and exports are handled.

“In the right circumstances, operated in the right way, these second-tier facilities do increase efficiency. What this is doing is creating a second set of buffers as the first set of buffers at the marine terminals become congested,” Smith said.