The port of Oakland has received more than US$12 million from the California Transportation Commission for its Freight Intelligent Transportation System (FITS) program. This comprises of 15 freight technology projects that are designed to address traffic management, security systems and roadway improvements at the port.
“This funding will help improve the port’s maritime operations,” said John Driscoll, the port’s maritime director. “FITS will help reduce truck wait times and provide a common communication platform for first responders.”
The port received a total of US$12.45 million in funding for the project.
Truck access and delays have been an issue at several West Coast ports. Under FITS the port is looking to establish an inter-agency emergency operations and traffic management center, provide a mobile phone app for truckers as well as WiFi to enable them to access traffic and terminal gate updates, install message signs to update truckers on delays and implement vehicle queue detection for better measurement of truck turn times.
Besides reducing congestion and improving traffic flow for truckers, the FITS scheme includes an update of security systems and the establishment of a common communication platform.
Overall the FITS scheme has a price tag of US$30.6 million. Trials are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021 for the system to go live the following year.
Even without FITS truck movements are getting swifter. Truck turn times at the port of Oakland have improved this year. They sank from an average of 92 minutes in January to 62-72 minutes in May, varying from one of the three terminals to the next. Management attributes the improvement to the addition of night shifts, the implementation of an appointments system for truckers to pick up freight and a US$67 million expansion at the TraPac terminal.
The port’s throughput has kept rising this year. According to Driscoll, it is up 4.6% over last year, which saw record numbers. Oakland handled 2.55 million TEU in 2018.
The number of containers handled is up 5.5% in the first five months of the year, although the number of vessel calls at Oakland is down 9.3% so far. The reason for this is the consolidation of more traffic on a smaller number of large container ships. These create more pronounced spikes in containers being unloaded, but the port’s berths are less congested than they used to be.
Despite the growth in traffic so far, Driscoll is concerned about growth in the months ahead. He recently warned members of the port’s ‘Efficiency Task Force’ that the trade conflict between the US and China could hit container traffic.
“Our customers are impacted by tariffs,” he noted. China accounts for about 38% of the port’s business.
Driscoll can draw some solace from the fact that migration of US firms’ sourcing from China to Vietnam can still move traffic through Oakland. In April it announced the imminent launch of a container service linking the port with Haiphong, with Pacific International Lines launching a sailing in partnership with Cosco and Wan Hai. The new route uses an 11,900 TEU vessel which sails from Haiphong via Nansha, Hong Kong and Yantian to Long Beach and Oakland, returning to Vietnam via Yantian.
“Vietnam is showing strong growth in its import and export markets,” said Driscoll. Last year the southeast Asian country was Oakland’s third largest import market and the fifth largest on the export side.
By Ian Putzger
Correspondent | Toronto