“Not all haulage companies acted fairly”

HHLA Executive Board member Jens Hansen evaluates the effectiveness of the slot-booking process so far. His conclusion: container transports at the Port of Hamburg have been distributed on the roads more evenly over time. However, if the system is to be optimised, some haulage companies must change their booking conduct.

When the slot-booking process was introduced in 2017, its goal was to make planning easier for everyone involved in container transport. Has this been achieved?

Jens Hansen: Yes, the goal of improved planning and more transparency has been reached. The truck visits are now better distributed over the whole day. However, on some days at our terminals, peak times still lead to an unsatisfactory handling situation for everyone involved.

To understand this, we have to look back for a moment: why was slot-booking even necessary?

The reasons are apparent to anyone who looks closely at container ships on the river Elbe. They have grown increasingly large over the last few years. Now that the dredging of the Elbe is complete, they can transport even more containers. But many of the boxes must be transported onwards because Hamburg is a port that serves the European hinterland. This leads to more truck trips when mega-freighters are being handled. The slot-booking process was necessary because it reduces traffic jams and waiting times at the terminals and throughout the Port of Hamburg.

How does that work, exactly?

The principle of controlling traffic via the allocation of slots has been used in air traffic for a long time. Aeroplanes take off and land during specific time windows to avoid chaos on the runways. Based on this model, we developed a system for container trucking. Almost all trucking orders must be registered in advance with the Hamburg container terminals. The forwarder looks for a free slot in the data system or is assigned one. If the transport arrives fairly punctually, it will be processed according to schedule. If the agreed time window cannot be adhered to, the visit must be rebooked before the truck arrives. Otherwise, the processing cannot be guaranteed.

Yet in February 2022, HHLA is making a number of changes to this process. Why?

Most haulage companies use the system appropriately. However, some book considerably more slots than they need. The slots that are booked but not needed are often not cancelled, so that the capacities scheduled for them at the terminals expire unused. This means they are not available for other companies to book. Since this is not fair conduct, we have continued to develop the system.

What will the consequences be if slots are not used?

If a company books “just in case” and then doesn’t appear, there will be consequences in the future. For example, they will only be able to access a restricted number of free slots.

How will these “black sheep” be identified?

The system will calculate a “no-show quota” for every participant. This shows how many slots are booked at HHLA but not used. If a company repeatedly overbooks slots, temporary measures will take effect.

Truck FIT – Fair, intelligent and transparent

Read more about changes to slot-booking here

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