Since the February 27 implementation of the electronic call-up system for managing truck traffic into Apapa, port users, businesses and residents of the port city are yet to experience the expected ease of movement as trucks still park on the bridges and roads.
The hitches in this system launched by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and its partner, Trucks Transit Parks Ltd (TTP), could be attributed to the change management being experienced by truck owners; government officials and security operatives in charge of bringing traffic congestion under control.
Interestingly, on Monday, July 5, 2021, TTP, the private sector firm in charge of managing the movement of trucks in Lagos Ports using Eto App, was able to achieve free flow of traffic in Apapa without military deployment or Presidential visit.
This milestone, TTP has promised to sustain on a regular basis in order to increase port operational efficiency even though there exist several challenges hindering the effectiveness of the electronic call-up.
Finding has shown that to achieve the long-awaited milestone of bringing Apapa traffic congestion under control, Trucks Transit Parks deployed three concepts that are interrelated. The first was infrastructure, the second was ICT and the third was stakeholder management.
Prior to Eto, TTP engaged all terminal operators including Apapa Bulk Terminal, ENL Consortium, Eko Support Services, APM Terminals, Greenview Development Nigeria Limited, and GMT jetty within Apapa. They also engaged Crown Flour Mills, Josepdam Port, Tin-Can Island Container Terminal, Ports and Cargo, PTML, Five Star, and others within Tin-Can area.
This was to actually understand their processes, challenges, operations, and capacity. For example, a dry bulk cargo operator has a different need from a container operator while a liquid bulk operator also has a different need compared to industries like Honeywell, Dangote, BUA, Four Mills, and others. This was done in order to ensure an efficient and effective implementation of the electronic call-up.
TTP also engaged the Lagos State Governments to understand the turn points, environment, and traffic assessment of all the truck parks. It further engaged with LASTMA, Nigerian Police, Federal Road Safety Corps, and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
One of the three major concepts of ensuring that electronic call-up becomes effective is the use of ICT. TTP deployed Operations Control Center (OCC) to connect infrastructure and ICT.
It involves setting up cameras and CCTV surveillance at all ports access and exit gates. At the Lagos Port Complex, there are multiple cameras overseeing Creek Road, the route towards Eleganza, Wharf Road, and the port gates. There are also cameras at Tin-Can first gate, the second gate, and also the Abuja in and exit points.
“The purpose of the OCC is to have a surveillance view of what happens at all port locations and satellite truck parks, and to be able to trace back for reference purpose,” said Adedenuola Orimolade, operations manager, Trucks Transit Parks Ltd in an interview with BusinessDay.
Continuing, he explained: “We have also deployed Access Control Barrier, Access Control Card Readers and bollards at both truck parks and port gates to enable truckers to book Eto ticket, and obtain a code number, which the driver is expected to scan in order to gain access to the park or port. Once this is done, the trucker will be notified via text message or email to move to Truck Park to the pre-gate”
ICT enables trucks to book a ticket to go into the satellite truck park, and from there, it will proceed to the pre-gate where they will wait to be batched and matched with the container it’s going to load from the port. This eliminates the need to go to the port and wait or blocking the port access road, rather they wait at the pre-gate to be scheduled according to the needs of terminal operators.
“This also happens in other sophisticated ports around the world where trucks are been schedule for a particular location through a booking system, said Orimolade.
This, according to him, helps to ensure that there is no congestion in the port and on roads as well.
Challenges to electronic call-up
There are various challenges hindering the effectiveness of Eto in traffic management. The first, was change management. Prior to Eto, transporters spend as much as N250,000 for their trucks to gain access into the port.
So, when Eto was deployed, it became difficult for the people benefiting from such huge spending to allow transporters to adapt to using technology, which costs only N15,000 to get to the port. Then, a lot of government officials were accused of benefiting through extortion and inequity movement of trucks, and this led to an increase in haulage rates as well.
Second was the nature of the road. From Ijora-Olopa to the port, which is about 4km, it’s just two lanes that service close to 2,500 trucks trying to go into the ports on a daily basis. As a result, there is usually a surge in vehicles trying to move into the port during the day compared to nights because some terminal operators do not operate at night.
Another challenge is the multiple checkpoints on the road. For instance, from Ijora-Olopa and Ijora-Sifax to the port area, there are about eight checkpoints. These checkpoints are been used to check the status of trucks, and it creates tailback of traffic along the line.
Another issue is that a lot of transporters are illiterates making it difficult for such people to move from manual system to the electronic system.
On other factors hindering the effectiveness of call-up, Kamar Bakrin, chairman of Trucks Transit Parks Ltd, listed inadequate road infrastructure, insufficient access control infrastructure and non-compliant truck park operators that release trucks out of schedule.
Bakrin pointed out other factors to include queue jumping by some truck drivers, rogue enforcement agents and inefficient terminal operators.
Gains of the electronic call-up
With the implementation of Eto, haulage rate has dropped drastically to almost about 30 to 40 percent. In December last year, the haulage rate from Tin-Can to Ikeja was about N1.4 or N1.5 million but now, it has reduced to about N500,000 to N600,000.
Another positive side of the electronics call-up system is that it has also ensured that when empty containers are loaded, they go straight to the port instead of going to a Truck Park, thereby reducing the huge demurrage shippers pay on empty containers.
“By using a combination of technology, physical infrastructure, and stakeholder collaboration, we have increased and optimised existing infrastructure; stopped park owners from releasing trucks from their parks indiscriminately; neutralise truck drivers ability to access the port without first being in a park, and following the queue, and making public, the manifest of trucks due to enter the ports daily,” he said.
Remi Ogungbemi, chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), who noted there has been a bit of change in the traffic situation in Apapa since Monday July 5, 2021, said there is a need to not only sustain but also improve on it.
“It is not yet time to celebrate because we still see trucks queue on the road and that is not the way it should be. We are looking forward to a situation whereby it is only trucks that are called and expected by each terminal that would be called to come out. Those trucks would go straight to where they are needed without stopping on the road. Trucks Transit Parks should not release a certain number of trucks at the same time on the road because a terminal said it can handle it,” Ogungbemi said on the phone.
According to him, releasing trucks has to be bit by bit in line with what the terminal can accommodate. “We are also looking forward to a time when truck drivers would receive the go the signal on their phones or emails and no truck would move without being called to move.”
On extortion, Tony Anakebe, a renowned maritime analyst, said the enforcement team has become a clog in the wheel of progress of port operations because they are on the road for their self-interest.
“We believe that when the electronic call-up becomes effective that Apapa environment would have no need for any enforcement team that would end up creating multiple checkpoints to extort people. No matter how good any policy is, they would find a way to manipulate it for their interest,” he said.