Using Technology To Drive Port Efficiency
TECHDIGEST – Mohammed Bello-Koko urges all stakeholders to buy into the e-call up system for trucks
Nigerian Ports Authority’s focus in line with the federal government’s port reform agenda has been to enthrone a competitive port system that supports efficient handling of ships and cargo, facilitates the smooth evacuation of imports from overseas and receipt of exports from the hinterland, served by road, rail, and inland waterways.
Effective cargo handling requires that there must be adequate cargo handling plants and sufficient trucks for cargo evacuation from the ports. After the 2006 port concession programme, the Lagos Ports witnessed an upsurge in cargo throughput, and the deplorable state of the port access roads led to vehicular congestion on the port access corridors.
Traffic management along the access roads to the ports in Lagos grew into a major challenge for the NPA. Consequently, an Integrated Truck Traffic Management System (e-call up system) which requires the combination of information technology and physical infrastructure was evolved in partnership with an indigenous company – Messrs Truck Transit Park Limited (TTPL), to bring an end to the situation.
The e-call up system is based on the principle that all port-bound trucks shall be called from a truck park or empty container holding bay, before they can have access to the ports. The system manages the scheduling of trucks to access the ports from satellite truck parks or a pre-gate as the case may be, with minimal human interference.
The effectiveness of the e-call up system, however, is dependent on three major factors namely: physical infrastructure, information technology, and stakeholders’ collaboration.
Inadequate physical infrastructure (such as truck parks and holding bays) has been a major constraint to the smooth transfer and delivery of shipments in and out of the ports. To nip this challenge in the bud, the Nigerian Ports Authority mandated all shipping companies to comply with the authority’s empty container policy, which requires all shipping companies involved in container operations to have empty containers holding bays in locations other than the port precincts or the maritime logistics ring. The logistics ring is from Tin-Can Island Port to Mile Two and also from Lagos Port Complex to Eric Moore Bridge down to Orile -Mile Two.
With the e-call up system, movement of the empty containers from these holding bays is done electronically in scheduled batches.
The authority in December 2020 via a public advert invited private truck parks operators for their facility to be used as satellite truck parks after fulfillment of the set conditions in the advert. This is aimed at standardizing truck park operations and providing dedicated space where all the trucks hitherto on the roads and bridges would temporarily stay before being scheduled to the ports.
Also, the authority converted the Lilypond Container Terminal, Ijora to serve as truck transit park. The newly-built truck terminal at Tin-Can Island Port (known as MOB Park) was integrated into the network of parks for the e-call up system. The Ahmed Bola Tinubu Park at Orile Iganmu, provided by the Lagos State government has been identified as a potential feeder park to hold static traffic and also feed the Lilypond Truck Transit Park for the port-bound trucks. Currently, 31 truck parks have been approved across Lagos State to accelerate the implementation of the e-call up system.
All approved truck parks are to be well equipped with telecommunication gadgets that would allow for proper integration and monitoring of activities in these parks on a 24/7 basis.
Some of the equipment expected at the parks include closed circuit television (CCTV), electronic access barrier (Access Gate), inverters for constant power supply, reliable internet connection (preferably local area network, LAN) and bollards.
A team of officials from the NPA constantly visits these parks to ensure that these gadgets are functioning. The provision and installation of these hi-tech gadgets have accelerated the implementation of the e-call up system.
The Lilypond Transit Truck Park serves as the pre-gate and central control room for all truck park activities.
The e-call up system for trucks will not achieve the desired outcome if stakeholders do not buy into it. The NPA, therefore, sensitized both its internal and external stakeholders through town hall and virtual meetings.
Amongst the industry stakeholders engaged by the authority include freight forwarders, shipping companies, and the various transport unions operating at the port, owners of empty container holding bays, barge operators, and terminal operators.
Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Road Safety Corps, and relevant agencies under the Lagos State Government serve as the enforcement backbone of the project.
The authority also embraced the intermodal transport approach in tackling the vehicular congestion on the port access roads by encouraging the use of barges. Trucks are captured on the “eto” platform, and are moved via barges to the port thereby reducing the travel time had the truck moved by road to the port.
To address the bottleneck faced by exporters to process their documents, the NPA engaged the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) on the establishment of export processing terminals to ensure that export containers are given priority. All export documentation would take place in the terminals, thereafter the trucks conveying the export containers will now be scheduled to access the port electronically.
The e-call up system like any other novel initiatives comes with its teething problems. However, these teething problems are surmountable and the authority is working towards resolving them.
Enforcement of traffic rules and regulations has been a challenge since the roll-out of the e-call system in February this year. But a key deliverable that we’re working to establish is a dedicated unencumbered lane for other road users along the port corridor, Ijora to Apapa 24/7. This is the source of discontent by the Apapa residents of unregulated truck movement within the Apapa environment.
Other challenges are poor supervision at night of trucking activities and the activities of security agencies (Nigeria Police/LASTMA/NPA Security/FRSC), miscreants called ECOMOG Boys and members of the disbanded Presidential Task Team that are having adverse effects on the ecosystem. The Lagos State Police Command has identified over 30 checkpoints specifically interfering with traffic movement and sabotaging the e-call up project.
The NPA has, however, intensified its engagement with the system operator – Messrs TTP Ltd., and others stakeholders to enhance service efficiency and response time to users of the “eto” platform.
Bello-Koko, is Acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority