Complaints are heard about the penalty regimes that are integral to Vehicle Booking System operation but global experience shows the pluses outweigh the minuses. Mike Mundy reports

The old maxim “you can’t please everyone” is one that applies to Vehicle Booking Systems (VBS) but experience overall confi rms they are integral to maximising both container terminal effi ciency and having a positive impact on supply chain performance overall.

It is true to say that under pandemic conditions there has been an escalation of complaints and grumbles about VBS but, as is manifestly visible around the world, supply chains generally are under great stress and as such it is hardly surprising that VBS and diverse other aspects of supply chain activity have come in for criticism. VBS is a front-line activity and directly in the firing line of truckers delivering and picking up containers. Truckers, collectively and individually, are well known to be vocal when they confront problems, so it is hardly surprising that there is more ‘noise,’ but is it justified? The short answer is no and global experience confirms this


VBS has played a prominent role in maintaining positive traffic flow along the supply chain in the Philippines including coordinating with the Metro Manila Development Authority


Matt Ball, General Manager Communications, Ports of Auckland, voices the opinions of many systems users contacted by PS when he says:

“We do not believe that we could effectively operate without having a VBS. We need to align our terminal capacity with demand to avoid congestion and having a VBS greatly assists us with that. This is particularly relevant in the current operating environment with global disruption in the supply chain and the lumpiness of volume flow that COVID has caused. We can adjust our VBS slots according to our resourcing and we are also just about to adjust pricing to encourage more off-peak volumes across a 24/7 period.”


Prior to implementing the No Show fee over 15 per cent of bookings made were no shows


Ball also amplifies the views of the majority of respondents to a PS survey on VBS when discussing the often-thorny subject of fees and penalties:
“Standard fees are charged,” he explains, “to cover the cost of having the VBS system whereas penalties or differentiated pricing is there to change behaviours. Prior to implementing the No Show fee over 15 per cent of bookings made were no shows. This,” Ball underlines, “is lost capacity and a huge waste, especially in the current operating environment. When we implemented the No Show fee we reduced No Shows to below five per cent. This reduction in wastage benefits the entire supply chain.”
He elaborates: “VBS booking fees and penalties do provide benefit for the supply chain. VBS enables capacity to be matched to demand, gives more certainty to timing and the wider supply chain because distribution centres’ warehouses can plan their own labour and operations based on known/confirmed booking slots, and, as noted earlier, they reduce waste.

With penalties diverse terminals in Europe, the USA and Asia make the point that they are a fundamentally essential ingredient to facilitate proper system use, especially under COVID conditions. As DP World London Gateway notes in its mid-2021 Annual adjustment of VBS service charges: “It is essential that we make best use of resources across the supply chain and it has unfortunately become necessary to revise the ‘Expiry – no show’ charge. Bookings made where no vehicle arrives at the terminal waste time and resources in operational preparation and effectively block capacity for other VBS users.” With this in mind DP World London Gateway raised its Expiry Charge (for a booking made for which no vehicle arrives at the terminal) to GBP50.00 (US$69.00) for 2021/22 from GBP32,79 (US$45.00) in 2020/21.


The base message is that to get the best out of VBS there needs to be discipline – comprising rules, regulations, fees and penalties – underpinning the technical excellence of such systems.

VBS has been around for well over a decade and system usage has spread around the world. It is recognised as the ‘go to’ system to impose order on traffic flow to the benefit of efficient and environmentally-friendly operations in conjunction with terminal working and the supply chain overall.

VBS, however, is not impervious to system mis-use or abuse – for instance the booking of numerous slots on a speculative basis when not required to link them to a specific container drop-off or pick-up. Procedural discipline is widely recognised as fundamental to optimising system usage and maximising benefits. Further, while VBS system specification is inherently bespoke to a given set of operating circumstances, standardisation of system usage and procedures offers the potential of extending system benefits. Ports of Auckland notes, for example, that its Container Chain VBS, “was chosen as it is also used across multiple sites in the Upper North Island and our transport customers were seeking as much consistency in business rules and system usage to help manage their fleets and movement of containers.