Truck drivers have reported long waits and major delays since Saturday’s launch of the new Advanced Gate System at Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant.
The new system collects additional data about the trucks while they are at Wando, such as tracking trucks’ movements around the terminal. The data will give the S.C. State Ports Authority better insights to make processes and layouts more efficient over time, according to Clint Eisenhauer, the ports authority’s senior vice president of external affairs.
As part of the new system, drivers now must enter a personalized access code upon arrival to the terminal. The port told drivers to expect delays in truck processing during the rollout of the technology, particularly on Monday, the first day the new system was used at full capacity.
The delays have continued this week. Some drivers have reported waiting more than three hours to get into the terminal, causing congestion on Long Point Road and Interstate 526.
Andrew Koger, a truck driver with JLA Transportation who is not a union member, said he does not understand why the port would change the gate system.
With the previous system, Koger said he could make seven turns a day, meaning he could come in and out of the port seven times. With the new system, he said he is averaging three turns a day and three-hour wait times, which causes delays in moving freight.
“The carrier and the drivers are losing out on money. The port doesn’t care though, because they are paid by the hour,” Koger said via a direct Facebook message. “Time is money for us, which they obviously don’t understand. How much money are we going to miss out on before they realize this isn’t going to work? They say it’s supposed to improve volume and cut down on port expenses. The only thing I have noticed is longer wait times, less volume and loss of money to the ones that keep the freight moving.”
In response to drivers’ frustrations, Eisenhauer said: “We are sympathetic to that issue. We’re losing money too when we’re not productive and not moving freight. It’s not a good situation for anyone. ... We are absolutely concerned about that. We’re trying to get this fixed as expeditiously as we possibly can.”
The port implemented the Advanced Gate System at the Inland Port in Greer on June 6 with no major delays — but that footprint is much smaller and handles less cargo each day than the marine terminal at Wando.
Eisenhauer said that the ports authority appreciates the frustration from shipping lines, drivers and area businesses, and that the new system is improving each day.
“Any time you change a fundamental IT system of an operation like this, it can be a bit painful, as this has been,” Eisenhauer said. “Like anything else, learning a new behavior and a new protocol involves change. ... We have to work through it to get the system ingrained, to be second nature. ... We’re as anxious as they are to get these problems behind us.”
The North Charleston Terminal will also have an Advanced Gate System at some point, though no schedule has been set for that terminal.
Saturday: The new Advanced Gate System was implemented at Wando Welch Terminal.
Monday: The first full-capacity day for the new gate system. That afternoon, the port encouraged drivers to avoid the terminal for the remainder of the day because of delays in processing trucks, to allow the backlog to clear out. Extended gate hours were offered for dry cargo from 7 to 11 that night.
Tuesday: The ports authority said it was collaborating with the International Longshoremen’s Association Clerks and Mechanics and the motor carriers and drivers to resolve issues causing traffic congestion at the terminal and in the surrounding area. Gate hours were extended until 9 p.m. Tuesday night.
Wednesday: “Production yesterday doubled from Monday,” a news release from the port this morning said. “Today, processing times are down, wait times are steadily decreasing and current conditions allow for increased activity.”
Gate hours will be extended until 9 tonight; trucks need to be past the portals by 8:30 p.m. The gate cutoff for refrigerated transactions is 8 p.m.