Although logistics experts and politicians are promoting innovative and sustainable means of transportation, globally, trucks are still the backbone of transport logistics. In Europe, about 75% of all cargo transports are still performed by trucks (www.statista.com, 2020). As a consequence, roads and highways are filled with truck queues. In particular, around ports, trucks with container loads are a dominant picture, often leading to reduced traffic flow and congestion. In fact, almost every port experience traffic problem.
Particularly, in so-called port cities, where the port has historically grown and is now located in the city centre, surrounded by residential and commercial areas, truck traffic is one of the biggest problems.
Truck traffic flow determining port performance and attractiveness
Even though, most ports and terminals do not directly make any money with truck traffic, it is crucial for the success of ports and a region’s supply chain performance as a whole. The more trucks are stuck in congestion, the less transports can be performed per day. And the more expensive the truck transports are, the higher is the reduction in the competitiveness of ports and a region’s attractiveness for industries and commercial activities. Ultimately, bad hinterland connectivity combined with truck congestion problems will reduce handling volumes and impair a port’s commercial success.
Additionally, trucks are one of the main sources of emissions in ports, causing 20% to 60% of all emissions in ports depending on environmental standards (OECD, 2014). By means of a powerful road network, a port’s carbon footprint as well as harmful emissions, such as NOx and particulate matter, can be significantly reduced. Furthermore, the traffic flow quality is a main driver for the appreciation and acceptance of the port industry by the city community. The more often commuters and residents are stuck in congested roads and highways around the port, the less they would be willing to accept further growth of volume and traffic.
Against this background, the ports and terminal operators amongst our customers are seeking for answers on burning questions about traffic optimisation. Here the most frequented questions:
- How to reduce the truck traffic and emissions, and how to mitigate its impact?
- How to optimise the traffic flow?
- Will adding more traffic deteriorate the traffic quality and lead to congestion?
- Where is the bottleneck in the road network? What is the root cause of the congestion?
- Is extension of the current road infrastructure the only choice? Or are there other smarter options available?
Unlocking the full potential of road infrastructures
Leading a team of simulation experts in our projects around the globe, I have seen many ports responding to traffic problems by extending their road infrastructure. Whereas, I am convinced that a better approach is to evaluate the existing infrastructure to unlock potential opportunities for leveraging smart traffic planning and optimization. For example, for a heavily frequented junction at the entrance of a container terminal in India, we have elaborated an optimized traffic light circuit that avoids the need for additional lanes. And in Hamburg, we introduced a vehicle booking system for the container terminals, which led to a more evenly distributed truck traffic, reducing gate queues and improving traffic flow in the entire port. In total, there are various options that can help optimize port traffic, including amongst others as shown by the HPC Traffic Simulation Map, organizational measures and minor infrastructure changes such as:
- Optimise traffic light patterns to reduce queuing times at junctions
- Implement adaptive truck routing systems to dynamically bypass congested areas
- Extend port opening times and/or implement vehicle booking systems to smoothen peak traffic volumes
- Install/extend turning lanes to minimize traffic tailback at junctions
- Replace a junction by a roundabout to improve traffic flow
- Add another driving or turning lane to increase road capacity
- Built a flyover to relieve critical junctions
Making fully informed decisions
The challenge, though, is to take the right measures, as there is no sure-shot formula. Road networks are complex systems and differ notably between ports, making it almost impossible to assess the potential of such traffic planning and improvement measures upfront based on experience and/or simple calculations. Therefore, in order to avoid costly mistakes and to ultimately make the most out of the road infrastructure, we have been using traffic simulation tools in multiple port development projects.
By means of detailed simulation that accurately models port-specific infrastructure and traffic flow, the effects of alternative traffic planning measures can be precisely quantified beforehand. For the future expansion of the Port of Bangkok, our simulation analysis revealed that the originally planned central roundabout would not be able to cope with peak traffic hours and that an additional flyover would be required for through traffic. In this way, the port could be saved from long traffic jams and costly misinvestments in insufficient road infrastructure. With another simulation analysis for a new chemical plant in Germany, we could confirm that the expected increase in truck volumes will not affect the traffic quality on the connecting streets up to the highway, thus mitigating major concerns of politics and local residents.
As you see from the problem line of the HPC Traffic Simulation Map, there are plenty of challenges regarding port and hinterland traffic. Which of them are you facing in your port? Are there any new challenges we have not pictured in the map yet? Feel free to reach out. We are happy to discuss it with you.
About the author
Nils Kemme is Partner and port operations consultant at HPC Hamburg Port Consulting GmbH. He has almost 15 years of experience and extensive knowledge in the field of planning, realising and optimising ports and logistics systems. Combining first-hand operations experience from Hamburg’s container terminals and in-depth simulation know-how, where he also earned his PhD degree, Nils is now heading HPC’s simulation team. As of now, he has over the last eight years planned and optimised port design and operations in more than 35 simulation projects on six continents, including multiple traffic optimisation studies.