The Port of Montreal takes action on congestion- But will carriers step up to the plate?

By Julia Kuzeljevich

CIFFA applauds the Montreal Port Authority’s announcement this week that it will be posting monthly, gateway-level scorecards on its website.

In an earlier blog dated February 12, CIFFA’s Executive Director Ruth Snowden highlighted the spate of liner congestion surcharges emerging after a difficult winter, and the overall lack of schedule integrity among some liner players, partly due to weather in the North Atlantic and winter in Canada.

Lack of schedule integrity causes a lot of problems. And defaulting to a reactive model of handling ships “when they arrive”, with the congestion charges falling on the cargo, is simply not sustainable.

MPA reports it has experienced a 17 % compounded increase in container volumes in the last two years, with a 12 % increase in January of this year alone.

While increased business and higher volumes are good news for the port and for Canada’s economy, the mounting congestion issues reported by CIFFA members to the association over the last several months have been concerning.

So the news that MPA will offer metrics online, and that stakeholders will be able to source scorecards directly from the website in both languages, is more than welcome.

Since the last quarter of 2018, MPA said it has taken the following measures to deal with the increased business:

Beginning in November, the port has moved to increase its labor force by 20 %,  and the hiring process continues, with 60% of new hires in place. Understandably the training process takes time.

The terminals have extended the gate hours from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Currently the use of extended gate hours is about 20% and MPA said it would like to get more users to take advantage of the after-hours gates. MPA also reported that average truck processing time for January was 54 minutes.

MPA also plans to release information on rail dwell. The average dwell for the months of September through December was between 4 and 4.5 days, with January a particularly bad month, 6 days, caused in part by terminal closure during the Christmas and New Year holidays, and the recent ice issues where approximately 4 days were lost until ice breakers arrived to clear up the navigation channel.

While these measures are not expected to completely eradicate bottlenecks and delays emerging from time to time in the system, there is the promise of greater transparency, via tools that can challenge myth from fact, and hold up kpi’s.

From CIFFA’s perspective, ideally, the next step in the process might be to identify those players whose on-time performance is far below acceptable levels. The rest of the stakeholders in the supply chain should not be forced to sink to a level of reactivity.

Put another way, should paltry performance be penalized? And can on-time performance be incentivized?

What could such measures realistically achieve? It is less about pointing fingers and blame-shifting, and more about holding to a set of standards and metrics, more about moving away from a siloed operations environment, more about forecasting, communication, and transparency in the supply chain.