The wait is over, ports optimize truck traffic

It is not the first time that technology contributes to make a giant step in operational quality and solve issues ingrained for years. When referring to ports, the entry and exit of trucks has caused long waiting times, becoming an issue that required a deep optimization. Thanks to digital analysis tools and artificial intelligence, port areas are managing to reduce the congestion generated around their facilities.

Posted on 09.10.2020
Before increasing capacity, it is necessary to optimize the infrastructure and control the demand. (Port of Barcelona)

Decongest, streamline and transform the behavior of land transport and the experience of these relevant users. This is what ports intending to optimize the flow of trucks and their logistics operations want to achieve. Port authorities have found the answer in digitalization and Artificial Intelligence, two tools that are helping reduce access and waiting times in a much more efficient and sophisticated way.

As pointed out by Daniel Olivier, CIO of the Port of Montreal, the benefits of regulating traffic with a more coherent system go beyond the ports to also involve cities. As he exemplifies, approximately 2,500 trucks circulate daily through Quebec’s capital, most of which arrive to or depart from the port facilities. This is why he considers that before increasing capacity, it is necessary to optimize the infrastructure and control the demand.

Organize and predict

With this goal in mind, in 2016 the Port of Montreal launched Trucking PORTal, a smart interface that informs drivers and carriers about traffic volume in real time to access port terminals. It can be downloaded as a mobile application or viewed on the computer or tablet. In addition, the driver can create alerts for when the waiting time decreases, or view his or her history of entries and exits.

Trucking PORTal uses Google Analytics to analyze the areas where carriers move, how many access the application and at what times of the day. Thus, a series of metrics are obtained to justify the return on investment and the introduction of improvements based on users opinions. This data has led to the development of two new components, says Olivier. The first one is to offer a more comprehensive solution which includes freight train schedules, since they coincide with trucks in some strips and can complicate port logistics.

"The second, and more interesting one, is the use of artificial intelligence to create a series of algorithms that can predict port traffic 24 hours in advance, an express request from carriers," he continues.

Regarding the Port of Barcelona, a virtual doors system that digitizes customs procedures has been in place for a while. Following this direction, the port is also implementing two systems. The Access Time portal allows to check the average entry time to the container terminals once the truck has entered the port. "Currently, we are developing a project with T-Systems that goes one step further, as it will anticipate the volume of traffic two hours in advance," explains Quim Compte, Head of Port Operations and Freight of the Port of Barcelona.


The Access Time portal allows to check the average entry time to the container terminals once the truck has entered the port. (Image of Access Time of the Port of Barcelona)

The system combines artificial intelligence with cloud solutions from Amazon Web Services and video analytics technologies to observe the passage of trucks through different points of the enclosure. The information provided by the different cameras will automatically establish the time it takes the same truck to travel between different points. It also takes into account the time of the day and the port capacity.

"Another benefit is traceability because it allows us to minimize operational risks, eliminate the use of paper and link the work chain in a reliable and automated way," says Compte.

The second measure is Portic Trucker Voice Assistant, a mobile application developed by Portic that stands out for being, in the words of its director Javier Gallardo, “the only provider using a voice recognition system.” The carrier can directly ask the application what is the access time to the terminal or the operation status by providing the container or pin number.

"Our voice is the most powerful tool we have, so why not use it to interact with the system?", Gallardo asks.

“Digitalization minimizes operational risks, eliminates the use of paper and allows the chain to function in a reliable and automated way"
Quim Compte, Head of Port Operations and Freight of the Port of Barcelona

Environmental benefits

A better organization also impacts on the environment. Trucks in Europe already today account for 22% of road transport emissions while making up only 2% of the vehicles on the road.

The port of Los Angeles, can already glimpse the results of optimizing inbound and outbound traffic. In 2008, they implemented the Clean Truck Program which prohibited access to trucks manufactured before 1989. This prohibition has been gradually applied to all heavy goods vehicles which do not meet the standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Since 2018, only models manufactured after 2014, and with prior registration, can access the facilities. As reported by the Port Authority, thanks to this initiative they have managed to reduce by 90% the emissions caused by trucks three years ahead of schedule.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach also have a carrier pass called PierPass 2.0, an appointment system organized in two shifts. In December 2019 they announced that the afternoon queues had been completely eliminated.