Long waiting times at the ramp. Can they be shortened?

13 June 2022

There have been claims of delays and long waiting times for loading for ages. Numerous statistics and, most of all, experience of professional drivers only prove that the scale of the problem is noticeable and requires taking action finally. In some countries, regulations protecting carriers have been introduced and some new technological solutions are available to solve the problem. 

The Italian Federtrasporti studio has analysed the data from Districò, a fleet management platform. It turns out that on average drivers spend around 6 hours behind the wheel, take 35 minutes for a break and about 4.5 hours for loading or unloading. This means that drivers spend up to 40% of their time waiting. It is an average result from over 82,000 days of drivers’ work analysed. The actual waiting time varies depending on the type of transport and customer.

Between 2014 and 2018, the American Transportation Research Institute surveyed 1,900 truck drivers and carriers. Respondents indicated that the problem is getting worse, with a 27.4% increase in delays of six hours or more. While it is true that not all delays were the fault of prolonged loading, the main reason given by ATRI (American Transportation Research Institute) was unsuitable facilities that do not increase productivity or capacity to handle large volumes of transport. Drivers pointed to unprepared materials that were sometimes still in the process of being produced; while shippers booked more trucks than they had space or equipment to support loading. According to the survey, these issues have remained unchanged for over 4 years, which only shows that manufacturers have not taken any action to improve the loading process and reduce waiting times.

Stopping the supply chain and monetary losses are just some of the consequences of dock delays

The Federtransporti study revealed that the time spent waiting for loading is equivalent to 42,000 periods of driving per day. The organisation points out that transport companies could increase turnover by 15% if drivers did not have to wait for loading. Road transport invoices amount to €45 billion per year, so it is easy to calculate that, due to waiting times, Italian carriers lose up to €3 billion per year. Trucks stand still instead of making money.

We all lose out on delays

Delays at the docks can also slow down or stop the supply chain completely, causing a domino effect. This is a big problem not just for drivers and carriers. Delayed deliveries mean that customers do not receive their goods on time, which results in poorer customer service and, consequently, can generate more returns and complaints. Also, there is a greater risk that goods stored in refrigerated trucks will spoil before they are delivered. Eventually, the problem lies in the deterioration of business relationships and the need to find new contractors. 

Waiting for loading can also have an indirect impact on the problem of the shortage of professional drivers. If the driver could actually do the transport instead of waiting at the ramp for several hours, then the shortage might be less noticeable. Stress due to delays, often inadequate conditions while waiting and uncertainty about returning home do not encourage people to take up this profession.

If these effects are not a good enough reason to start taking measures to reduce delays as soon as possible, it does not really bode well for transport development. 

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Delays are often unavoidable. How can they be minimised, though?

Respondents to the ATRI survey noted that customers who are well-organised and keep to schedules, as well as use modern technology, have significantly reduced waiting times for loading. The key is good organisation of work at the loading docks and adapting their availability to the needs of both carriers and shippers. 

Good practices that are listed as those speeding up the loading process include:
– extended operating hours of the facility;
– various reception times;
– the use of software for accessing the booking system;
– increasing the number of docking doors;
– employing more staff to handle incoming and outgoing transports.

An interesting alternative that could help minimise this problem is the “Drop and Hook” concept, where the driver leaves an empty semi-trailer and picks up a full one without waiting for loading. This solution could help, but requires high-level cooperation between shippers and carriers. However, this is not an ideal solution. It will not work for fresh cargo which has to be stored under special conditions and reach the unloading point as quickly as possible. 

Will legislation force shippers to better organise their work on the docks?

Most countries do not regulate loading and unloading by law, not even the important issues of waiting time and remuneration. This is also not specified in the CMR Convention.

Rules may be set out in the order, but often include conditions that are not favourable to the carrier, whereby he agrees to a possible stoppage while waiting for loading. However, if there is no such provision in the contract, the carrier may claim compensation. Nevertheless, it is not that simple, as he has to prove that the damage was incurred. Legal regulations in this area would certainly help to verify and determine the price of compensation. 

In some countries legislation is being introduced to deal with these issues. In Portugal, in 2021, Decree 57/2021 was introduced, which prohibits drivers from loading or unloading, limits waiting times at the docks and specifies the compensation amounts for carriers. The waiting time must not exceed 2 hours and, if it does, the sender must pay compensation for each additional hour at a rate of between €12 and €40 per hour depending on the type of vehicle and transport being carried out. After 10 hours these rates increase by a further 25%.

A similar situation can be observed in Spain, but here the waiting time for loading must not exceed 1 hour. The new law has been in place since March 2022 and regulates compensation for vehicle owners waiting for more than 60 minutes. The shipper must pay €38.60 for each waiting hour. In September the law will also prohibit unloading and loading by drivers.

In 2019, the first steps were also taken by the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), which created rules to address the problem of waiting for loading for too long. The guide includes rules such as ensuring sufficient capacity at the docks and opening hours, or respecting set time slots. Unfortunately, these are not backed up by legal regulations, so the ‘golden rules’ are rarely followed. 

Technological solutions are appearing on the market to help solve the problem at the docks

Systems and technologies can significantly improve the whole process, but when used alone, without improving the organisation of the facility, they may not deliver the expected results. 

As drivers point out, often goods are not even prepared for loading. They need to be assembled, and if they consist of multiple loads with different dimensions, one needs to calculate how best to distribute them on the semi-trailer. With Goodloading – a loading planning software, you can prepare a complete project for the distribution of goods in just a few minutes. This means that you can start loading straight away, without having to wait dozens of minutes. 

Recently, systems for booking loading docks have become popular. One solution is the Dock Scheduler, which is designed to help reduce waiting times by up to 70% and increase the efficiency of the entire process. This tool helps manage time slots in logistics by allowing remote control of delivery schedules. 

There has also appeared a solution from the Croatian start-up: Gideon Brothers, a fully automatic forklift truck that enables rapid loading and unloading of semi-trailers. Trey is able to load or unload 25 pallets per hour. According to the developers, this technology is able to reduce loading times by up to 80%

Q-Loader, an automatic loading system, is another advanced solution. Goods are distributed on an automated platform, which then places them on a semi-trailer or container. WDX, the company behind this solution, guarantees that unloading or loading with the use of Q-loader takes less than 10 minutes. Moreover, this solution does not require any specially adapted semi-trailers or a loading dock..

Logistics is a constant search for savings and quite often you can read about success expressed in terms of one percent (!) of profit. Working on unnecessary development should become a global trend, both technologically and legally, which will force the use of technology that can bring enormous benefits.