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Container transport under pressure due to time slots at terminals

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

Every day, SKB Logistics transports many containers to Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. The exact price depends on how busy the market is: the game of supply and demand. SKB transports on a one-way basis. Import and export trips are priced separately. The thing is, there is one bottleneck in the chain that is becoming increasingly difficult, namely the time slots at terminals. What's happening? That’s what we’ll be discussing in this blog.

How do I quickly transport a container to Germany?

Every customer wants to receive their container as quickly as possible as soon as the boat moors in the port of Rotterdam or Germany. Boats are getting bigger and bigger. There used to be 3 ships with 6,000 to 8,000 TEU each, spread during the week. Now, there will be one ship carrying from 20,000 to 24.000 TEU. And those containers should preferably leave the terminal within 48 hours, otherwise the customer will have to pay extra. But the terminals do not have sufficient unloading capacity for those 48 hours, so they use time slots to prevent chaos on the site.

Container transport by truck and time slots

Transporters, like us, reserve a time slot. You can pick up your container in that time slot. But it means peak-time timeslots are taken quickly. There is simply not enough capacity. So often, a transporter could effectively be loading or unloading at the terminal at 15:00, but he cannot do so until 20:00 because that is the only time a slot is available. As a result, they have to wait outside the terminal for 5 hours. Transporters are currently not reimbursed for those hours. You can only claim waiting hours from the customer with an interchange document from the terminal. That's the first flaw in the system.

But waiting for 5 hours also messes up the rest of your schedule with that truck. Soon, the 9 or 11 hours of compulsory uninterrupted rest come into the picture at a time when you do not want it. But because of current regulations, you cannot move them around. That is the second flaw. As a result, the trucks yield too little and the price per kilometre should increase (read our extensive blog about this). However, because of the strong peak and off-peak times due to the larger ships, there is always a transporter who regularly drops its prices.

But why not simply plan container transport differently?

As a transporter, we hear this a lot. ‘Why don't you just plan differently?’ It's a logical thought but not easily done. Transport planners must guide 40, 60 or 80 vehicles. Booking time slots is becoming more and more complicated for peak times. First, it was possible to book 4 hours in advance for a time slot of 3 hours. But now, you can only book one hour in advance for a time slot of up to 1 hour. That requires much more precision and time. Times 40. Or 60 vehicles.

The terminals are unable or unwilling to expand and are not encouraged to change that. There is no financial or organisational incentive. The days when one terminal mainly worked with one shipping company are gone. Countless containers from multiple shipping companies arrive at each terminal, combined on one boat. The transporter or customer can therefore no longer approach one shipping company to discuss the problem with the terminal to create more space. The playing field is fragmented.

‘Just come at night’, is the terminal’s reply. Plenty of space. That would be a great solution. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the customer’s loading and unloading points will not be open after the trip. In most cases, there simply is no connection. An intermediate step from unloading the containers to a depot at night is also too expensive for many customers. Road transport remains a closing entry in many budgets.

Container transport based on good cooperation

Of course, SKB Logistics is not daunted by this. It is a pity that as a transporter, you fall into a gap. And that fast deliveries are under pressure as a result. SKB Logistics is a container transport company that operates on the basis of solid collaboration and mutual trust. We are of the opinion that this forms the basis for a shared result: stable transport, competitive but healthy rates, helping each other out in difficult situations (shortages, surpluses or a forgotten rush job) and safe situations on the road. We don’t compete on price and we don’t bid on auction sites. Good transport at a good, competitive price.

Please contact us for a customised quote: + 31 85-111 7650 or


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