Rick Knapp spent more than 30 years as an executive at the Virginia ports, where he witnessed the inefficiency of truckers moving loaded import containers to inland destinations only to have to return to the port with no cargo.
So Knapp, who retired in 2009, set about finding a solution.
“Congestion on the highways and at ports is a serious national issue,” Knapp told the Journal of Commerce last year when he launched his solution — Quick180, LLC — at the Virginia ports. “Anything we can do to reduce empty miles and remove trucks from the highways and make the system more efficient, we’re better for it.”
At its most basic, Quick180 is a Web application that allows trucking companies, exporters and freight forwarders to easily find empty containers that can be loaded and sent back to the port, thus reducing the number of trucks coming back to the port with either empty containers or no containers at all.
The app, already available in Virginia, uses intelligent algorithms to match importers’ empty containers with exporters who need a box in or near a particular ZIP code.
Now Knapp and Ryan Glover, director of sales and marketing, are preparing to launch the service at the Savannah ports.
At most ports in the United States, empty returns and pickups generate 30 percent of all gate traffic, Glover said.
Reducing truck trips back to ports to pick up or return empty boxes is key to improving performance at container terminals, where increasingly large ships are already straining capacity and producing costly delays for truckers and cargo interests.
In Savannah, which has not experienced the heavy congestion and delays other ports are seeing, Quick 180 expects to help reduce the percentage of empty returns and pickups, possibly even eliminating the need for empty in and out gates, he said.
A new approach
Several services already exist for exchanges of domestic or international containers or trailers outside terminals. Motor carriers and ship lines also make ad hoc matches via phone and email. These efforts, however, have failed to make a big dent in truckers’ empty or “bobtail” trips back to congested ports.
In a recent report published by the Port of New York New Jersey Port Performance Task Force, a coalition of shipping interests identified numerous challenges to port efficiency and recommended possible solutions.
One recommendation, according to the JOC, was the “implementation of a dedicated online tool that would allow for easier communication between stakeholders and ocean carriers to arrange for the transfer of containers and/or chassis at off-dock service locations to reduce both congestion as well as empty vehicle miles traveled to and from the port.”
That, Knapp says, is exactly what Quick180 is designed to do.
“After years of seeing inefficiencies in moving containers, I decided to create this concept of an exporter driven process,” he said.
How it works
Quick180 uses its software to sift through ocean carriers’ available empty containers and match them with exporters’ needs in a particular area.
The process begins with an exporter’s online request for an empty container and accompanying chassis. The exporter provides an export booking number and the ZIP code where a box is needed.
The exporter’s request is automatically distributed to the motor carriers that Quick180’s algorithms show to have an available empty box in the specified ZIP code or near one of the company’s exchange sites, known as QuickLots.
The program brings the transaction’s parties together but isn’t part of the actual interchange, which is handled under the industry-standard Uniform Intermodal Interchange Agreement. Users don’t have to tweak software or commercial practices.
“Our software wraps around commercial networks and the existing flow of information,” Knapp told the JOC. “We don’t ask the steamship line, motor carrier, forwarder or beneficial cargo owner to do anything different.”
The QuickLot interchange sites will be located at inland points near busy truck-route intersections where they can intercept empty containers available for export loads.
For example, Knapp said, the first QuickLot opened near Emporia a town that some 85 percent of import containers trucked from Hampton Roads pass through.
The ideal QuickLot is situated 100 to 200 miles from the port it serves, he said.
“That allows more savings on time, empty miles, carbon emissions and fuel.”
A Quick180 exchange costs $13. The fee is charged to the export motor carrier, forwarder or shipper when a container match is completed. There are no subscription charges or other fees, Knapp said.
The fee includes use of QuickLots, which provide security, lighting, fueling and tire inflation, dunnage removal and a place for drivers to rest while waiting for an empty container to arrive and be exchanged.
Filling a need
Hampton Roads owner-operator George Berry told the JOC he was impressed by a demonstration of Quick180. He said the system offers drivers “the opportunity to make more loaded miles versus empty miles.”
Ed O’Callaghan, president of motor carrier Century Express, said truckers welcome a system that allows them to avoid congested ports and reduce exposure to container per-diem and chassis rental costs.
“Anytime we have the opportunity to efficiently exchange a box outside the marine terminal, it’s a win-win,” he said.
Stuart Stone, branch manager of Savannah-based D.J. Powers,Inc., also applauded the effort.
“Turn times of two or three hours and $150 trucker imposed ‘congestion’ surcharges have become the new normal in Norfolk,” Stone said. “I am proud that the community, through outside-the-box thinking, has created a more transparent, transaction-fee-based system that can ease the pain at our congested ports.”
After its Savannah launch this summer, Quick180 plans to move into New York-New Jersey, followed by Houston and California. The goal, Knapp said, is to eventually reach all the country’s major ports.