Port officials said delays are lessening for truck drivers trying to get into the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant one month after a new software system was launched there.
The terminal was up to 4,800 gate transactions during normal hours on July 19, compared with 2,000 transactions when the new system launched on June 20.
S.C. State Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said the terminal could not have handled that increase without the new Advanced Gate System. Now the port looks to shorten turn times — the time it takes truck drivers to complete their work inside the terminal.
Typically, a truck driver can get in and out of the marine terminal within an hour for dual missions — dropping off and picking up — or 45 minutes for a single mission.
Over the past month, those turn times have grown longer at Wando. They now range from an hour to an hour and a half, Newsome said.
“We have provided exceptional turn times historically to truckers. That’s part of our calling card for them,” Newsome said. “We’re proud of that and we’ve got to get our turn times back to where they should be.”
Several situations caused the backups at the terminal, according to port officials.
The transition to the Advanced Gate System created delays, officials say. Three unexpected software shutdowns in the first month, coupled with the adjustment to the new system, resulted in major congestion along Long Point Road in the beginning. Some trucks pulled off into the emergency lane on Interstate 526; truck drivers complained of long waits and profit losses.
Two large ship services also recently relocated from the North Charleston Terminal, bringing more cargo to Wando.
And port officials say too many drivers arrive at the same time each day. The Wando terminal sees its highest truck volume between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays. Early mornings, late evening hours and Saturdays are underutilized, officials say.
Newsome said the high midday volumes occurred before the new Advanced Gate System software launched but that backups inside the terminal are more acute now with the additional cargo coming in on ships and the new software speeding drivers through check-in.
“We need to find a way to spread the volumes out over more time in the day. We need to get better use of our weekend gates on Saturday,” Newsome said. “This is part of the challenge in big ports today: how to make the best use of the gate hours that they offer.”
Some ports around the country have implemented appointment systems, requiring truck drivers to arrive at scheduled times. Port officials said they do not want that system because it requires consequences for missed appointments.
Other ports have an incentive-based program: Those who come in the mornings, evenings or weekends avoid a fee given to drivers who arrive midday. Newsome said he does not want to go that route either.
The port is considering infrastructure improvements at the terminal. Newsome said the port also plans to pitch truck drivers on the concept of arriving during slower hours.
“It’s pointing out we have these opportunities where we have hours, and if you can plan your work, you can take advantage of that,” Newsome said.