Your lead article “Ache at the Gate
” (May 2014) effectively covers the waterfront on the past and future of turn time, and is mostly accurate and commendable. One paragraph contains gross factual errors: “Terminal operators three years ago published a study claiming that the median queue time to discharge or pick up a load in the late afternoon was 45 minutes, but the study had a small sample size (about 250 trucks) and only measured the time it took to move through a terminal, not time spent waiting to reach a clerk at the truck pedestal. The terminals, for example, don’t count lunch breaks when calculating visit times” (page 39-40). The next paragraph goes on to ridicule the approach with a Dunkin Donuts analogy.
I authored that 2011 study, based on data from METRIS, a GPS-based architecture of my design. The work is barely recognizable from your account of it. First, not only did it measure queuing outside the terminal; to my knowledge it was the first to achieve that accurately from GPS, and it remains the most if not the only accurate automated process in use. Turn time is a commentary on the performance of terminal operators, motor carriers and other businesses; it’s intensely controversial, and the value of loss associated with it is enormous. The calculations have to be dead on. They are difficult, and demand exceptional expertise — other researchers, funded by the National Academy of Sciences, recognized the complexities, decided not to automate, and approached the problem manually on a small scale. My methodology required development of new data models and custom algorithms. It did not cost anything near $150,000.
Second, while it’s true that terminals don’t count lunch breaks, this was not a terminal study. It was initiated by the Truck Turn-Time Stakeholders Group (TTSG), co-chaired by a motor carrier and a terminal coalition; designed and executed entirely by me; and financed by four parties equally to ensure objectivity: the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, PierPass, and Ability/Tri-Modal, a leading motor carrier. Cal Cartage, the largest motor carrier serving the ports, and beneficial cargo owners including Lowe’s and Mattel, were among the participants in TTSG. Not only did the study clock breaks, but ironically its first recommendation specifically addressed the massive peaks in turn time caused by breaks.
Third, the alleged claim of a “late afternoon” median of 45 minutes did not appear in the report. What is late afternoon? 3 p.m.? 4 p.m.? 5 p.m.? Turn time doubles from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and no single statistic meaningfully summarizes that. Far from splitting hairs on medians, the focus was on reliability and capacity, precise analyses by time of day, drilling down to differences among terminals, causes of delay, and recommendations for remediation. TTSG found instant consensus around the report and resolved to move towards solutions (that good intent did not materialize, as TTSG was succeeded by a broader group that never quite found its feet).
A senior California Senate freight consultant publicly commended the METRIS study. California Trucking Association executives praised it. The Waterfront Coalition promoted it, and at their urging, in 2012 I developed LiveQ, a real-time monitor of queue length and progress outside the entry gates — members of the Harbor Trucking Association subscribe to it. The Port of Long Beach purchased METRIS reports until key leaders departed in 2013.
The 2011 study was a rare triumph of collaboration among stakeholders, but there are stray and persistent sources of misinformation about it. The executive summary of the report is public, at www.metris.us/services/turntime
President, Digital Geographic Research Corp.
Santa Barbara Calif.
This letter to the editor was published in the June 2014 issue of American Shipper.