Durban harbour. File Picture: Jacques Naude
Durban harbour. File Picture: Jacques Naude

Firms sign petition over slow Durban port: complaints over booking system issues, extensive delays

By Thami Magubane Time of article published Dec 3, 2021

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DURBAN - TRANSPORT companies have launched an online petition to push for the pace of the flow of goods in and out of the Durban harbour to be sped up. Companies say they are experiencing extensive delays lasting up to 24 hours.

Their anger is directed at Transnet National Port Authority’s booking system. While the system is meant to ease the flow of traffic, the transporters argue that it is erratic and unreliable.

The system in which operators book a time for their trucks to come to the harbour has been in operation for more than a year.

But the operators say that in the past few months it has proven to be a headache and has pushed many transport operators to the brink of financial ruin.

By yesterday afternoon, more than 400 transport operators had signed the petition.

Chris Moodley of KZN Clearing, who started the petition, said the crisis was threatening to destroy businesses.

He said the fact that hundreds of operators had already signed the petition showed how many people were affected, and he hoped that getting more signatures would help to draw attention to the problem.

He said apart from the time-slot challenges, there was also unfairness in how transport companies were treated by harbour authorities.

“We know that in the harbour there are 10 priority companies. They are given preference. We don’t know who these companies are, how they were chosen and what forms they signed to be considered priority companies,” he said.

In his petition, Moodley said: “We, the private transporters, are being abused financially and mentally with the poor provisions of the port handover and releasing systems.

“The Transnet Port Terminals use an online booking system which allows the transporters to book designated time slots for their vehicles to uplift or offload containers.

“In the recent months the transporters have been experiencing great difficulty in obtaining available time slots on the system,” he said.

He added that in some instances the transporters had not been able to obtain a booking for a three-day period.

“We have noted that approximately five bookings are open per time slot an hour before the actual time. For example, five bookings would open up at 1pm for a 2pm to 3pm time slot. However, within a few seconds the few slots allocated are filled and 300+ transporters are left hanging, waiting for the next slot.

“This spontaneous and ad-hoc method of making bookings available has caused great financial loss to the transporters as they are unable to plan their days and deliveries efficiently because they are often required to sit idle until a time slot becomes available.”

He said the transporters had also noted that a booking made at a specific tower did not guarantee that the container was at that particular tower. He said, for example, a booking can be made for Tower 109 but the container is located at 205.

“Apart from the financial loss created from the loss of time, fuel and overtime costs, the transporters are then forced to park on public roads whilst waiting for a booking, further exposing themselves to potentially getting traffic fines, as well as theft. They also have no ablution facilities.

“The drivers who are parked on these public roads experience a significant amount of backlash from public road users as they are seen to be creating congestion,” he said.

The petition attracted furious comments from affected transporters.

One person who signed the petition commented: “There is zero consideration for us transporters and mainly drivers. The senior members of the Ports Authority should get down to check daily and see the plight of truckers firsthand. Am sure they won’t want their families to endure what drivers have to.”

Another said: “The current booking system is not working for transporters. As transporters we face many challenges. This booking system is now one of our biggest problems.

“This system has a negative ripple impact on my business.”

In response to questions from The Mercury, Kwazi Mabaso, acting managing executive at the Durban Terminals said Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) first introduced the truck booking system in May 2020 at the Durban Container Terminal (DCT Pier 2) in a bid to reduce the number of trucks calling at the terminal at peak times, which placed pressure on both the booking system and public roads.

“With a 24-hour working pattern, the terminal would be fully resourced at off-peak times with fewer trucks to handle. While take-up of the truck booking system has been good, peak time slots remain popular.

“The challenges presented include the preference for peak slots during the day and not necessarily off-peak slots in the evenings. Like any system, forecasts are in advance and the principle of first-come-first-serve is upheld to ensure efficiency.”

Mabaso said while there had been continuous engagements with industry, DCT Pier 2 remained willing to further engage with them.

“It will also assist the dialogue for the trucking industry to elect consistent representatives as we seek ways to improve our customer service. The terminal’s daily target is 3300 gate moves, which it regularly exceeds.”

THE MERCURY

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