Monday, August 9, 2010

Vancouver Port Vows to Unplug Bottleneck

(Globe and Mail – David Ebner)

Canada’s busiest port keen to cut ‘dwell time’ of containers as they move from ship to rail

On the Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, tall cranes hoist containers off ships onto the docks of Canada’s busiest port.

And there the containers sit.

North American ports try to get boxes from ships to railcars within three days, but at Port Metro Vancouver, which handles more containers than all other Canadian ports combined, only about half the containers make it out in that time. This year, almost a quarter sat for six days or more.

The port’s problems are typical of the productivity issues confronting Canada. Facing fierce competition from the United States, Port Metro Vancouver is in the early stages of a makeover aimed at radically increasing its efficiency and opening up an important but little-noticed bottleneck in the Canadian economy. Despite sometimes tense labour relations at the port, it’s an initiative that both management and unions say is vital.

“You can’t have a container sitting on the dock for a week if Americans can get it off in a day or two,” said Mark Keserich, president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 500. “We’re in different times. Containers can go through any port. Nobody wants to see the work go to an American terminal.”

Last year, $75-billion worth of goods crawled through the port. Moving those goods more quickly would benefit companies across the country, speeding the delivery of merchandise ranging from electronics to running shoes, and ensuring that money isn’t tied up in unsold goods in transit. Read more here.