Opinion

Wharf carriers overlooked again in port supply chain study

Recently, the Port of Melbourne (PoM) launched its Container Logistics Supply Chain Study (CLCS), mapping out container movements to and from the port. 

There is certainly much detail, data and commentary in the report, much of which is irrefutable. However, the Victorian Transport Association is worried by what the report did not say. 

It was very encouraging to see the growth of Twenty Foot Unit (TEU) containers through the port over the last ten years from 2009-2019. 

A 40 per cent increase to three million TEU through the port with 94 per cent of imports destined to Melbourne metro (37 per cent west/27 per cent southeast/16 per cent north) is also welcome news. Also, there is a growth in the implementation of larger heavy vehicles with Super B and A Doubles making up to 40 per cent of the port related transport fleet in ground-based supply chain. 

However, disappointingly the road-based supply chain has again been placed at the bottom of the process with many issues overlooked and not discussed.

Firstly, vehicle utilisation through the stevedores is poor. With a 50 per cent or less utilisation factor there are added trips with containers being made within the port precinct and related areas. The barriers to more balanced loading sit with the stevedores and the shipping companies, and not the road transport operators. 

While the quayside activities operate 24/7, the land-based infrastructure does not. Under the current systems and parameters, it is almost impossible to improve utilisation percentages of the port by road operators.

Secondly, opening times do not match PoM activities. Empty container parks are usually only open during a 10-hour day Monday to Friday, with customers usually cutting off dispatch and receival by 3.00pm Monday to Friday.  

The Port, however, is open and counting time 24/7. While the Port requires all operators to use the three-day collection window and at call receival process from the stevedores and shipping companies, the ability to match the processes in the most efficient way is quickly overlooked. Again, the road carrier takes up the slack and makes sure that requirements are met at a higher cost.

Thirdly, staging of containers in carriers’ yards has now become standard process. The operational figures are closer to 95 per cent of TEU and are staged through at least one transport depot, if not more, after pick-up and before delivery into the stevedore. This process, which can see containers lifted UP to 10 times through the land side process, contributes to a downturn in productivity, an increase in cost and greater exposure to community amenity concerns. 

The last issue is the poor rail utilisation statistics. A drop in freight moved by rail volumes from 12 per cent to 7 per cent in 10 years is an indictment on all of the rhetoric regarding reduced cost, greater efficiency and community concerns. Rail is a major mover of freight but the intermodal system has not developed as the volumes increased.

A prime example of this is the fact that VICT have been at Webb Dock for nearly 10 years and the prospect of a rail connection to service this huge facility is still 10-20 years away.

The above issues may seem focused and concentrated but they are indicators of where the port supply chain is failing. It is one thing to improve the port and attract greater numbers of ships but the increase in volumes still need to get to and from warehouses and customers in the most efficient manner.

The wharf carrier sector of the port supply chain has carried the capital cost of increased volumes through the port. 

Apart from the inclusion of VICT and the introduction of Containerchain, there have been no infrastructure or process improvements over the past 10 years. 

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