The Port of Los Angeles is calling for a national “smart ports” initiative that leverages data standards to improve cargo fluidity across the whole supply chain.
Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka delivered the port’s sixth annual State of the Port address this week. Reflecting on 2020, Seroka said it was “the most erratic we have ever seen” for the port’s container business. Container volumes plunged almost 19% in the first half of the year, which was followed by an “unprecedented” surge in the second half of the year. Los Angeles finished the year with container throughput of 9.2M TEU, down just 1.5% on 2020.
The container terminals at Los Angeles handled “a remarkable 94% more traffic the week before Christmas than the same week in 2019”, the port said, as the 2020 peak season did not taper off as per normal. Since August 2020 monthly throughput at Los Angeles has averaged over 920,000 TEU, which means the port has actually been operating at a level equivalent to processing over 12M TEU per annum for the last five months.
Seroka acknowledged that the port’s marine terminals, truckers and drayage operators, railroads and the wider supply chain have been “stretched” over the this period. All sectors are struggling with congestion and delays, and both shipping lines and shippers are not getting the service levels they expect.
To handle such a large increase in volume fluidly, the San Pedro ports need to find ways of moving cargo through their terminals at greater velocity. Seroka said the port is pushing hard to improve port performance. Los Angeles is in the process of launching a range of incentives that will reward terminal operators for improving truck turn times and facilitating dual gate transactions.
Other initiatives are in the pipeline. Seroka said “digital maturity” offers the most immediate scope to drive improvements in performance, and called on the wider port community to embrace digitalisation. “We need everyone to participate in the digital system of systems” he said, referring to LA’s Port Optimizer portal.
Seroka also called for a larger digital initiative targeting all ports in the US. He noted that the US Federal Aviation Authority knows the location of all airplanes in real time, and said the maritime sector needs to develop something similar. “If we want America to improve as a leader in global trade, we need nationwide port data connectivity with agreed-upon data standards and open architecture system that provides interconnectivity between major U.S. ports, service providers and the freight they move,” he said.
Los Angeles is continuing its own digitalisation drive with its Port Optimizer, and in 2020 launched the “Signal” and “Return Signal” services to improve visibility into inbound container loadings and empty container return locations respectively. Seroka announced another initiative called the “Control Tower” that will give high level metrics and KPIs on truck turn times and rail velocity metrics.
Seroka stressed that more needs to be done at the San Pedro harbour, however, and Los Angeles “continues to push for a port-wide reservation system” for road trucks. This has been talked about several times previously, but terminal operators have been reluctant to sign up for a system that lets a trucker book an appointment at their facility via a portal they do not control. It would be a major achievement if Los Angeles is able to bring the different interests together and progress this initiative in 2021.
The final message from Gene Seroka was that Los Angeles is committed to holding its course and maintaining its position as the No.1 container port in the US. The port is continuing to work on US$473 million in Port capital projects, which include eight major terminal, rail and roadway improvements, and on its environmental goals. These include zero-emission terminal equipment by 2030 and a zero-emissions drayage fleet by 2035.