Date: 14.10.2020

Vehicle booking improvements at Felixstowe

In light of the recent criticism and industry-wide complaints concerning delays and service levels, the Port of Felixstowe – the UK’s largest and busiest container port – introduced vehicle booking changes on Monday, to improve service and lessen the delays on its terminals.

One of these changes is to the ports VBS (Vehicle Bookings System), which is primarily used as a real-time appointment system for hauliers to deliver or collect containers from the port. 

The system allows hauliers to select an available time for their visit, which should allow the port to proactively manage demand and provide an efficient turnaround. 

Although VBS has been used at the port for around seven years now, it has traditionally suffered with its own challenges such as available slots at peak times, hauliers booking more slots than they may need and slow turn times. 

To try and resolve this, the port released 1,600 additional vehicle booking slots (VBS) in the last few weeks, extended Sunday opening hours and claim that on average, 749 VBS slots remain unused each day, despite the large number of containers waiting collection.

The large number of unused booking slots has been blamed on some hauliers securing as many bookings as they can and then returning unwanted bookings at the last minute, by which time they are of limited benefit to other hauliers. 

In one week 11,704 bookings were returned and 6,679 bookings were unused.

Felixstowe has increased the number of bookings available on both terminals and, to ensure a more equitable and efficient distribution of bookings, they introduced the following changes to vehicle booking slots (VBS) on Monday:

  • All bookings between 11:00 and 19:00 without a container associated with it four hours before the time of the booking will be lost and automatically reclaimed by the system; all other hours remain unchanged
  • Reclaimed bookings will be re-released for general use but it will be mandatory to attach container details at the time of booking

The port has also committed to making additional information available on its website to show the number available, the number taken, and the number that went unused during the day.

Whilst the port hopes that these changes will improve its efficiency, there will still be some scepticism from its users, and many hauliers, shipping lines and cargo owners will want to see the evidence of these improvements in the coming weeks. 

For hauliers, it may initially create some additional administration work as they will need to have the container number associated with the booking within four hours, or lose it, but there are other benefits such as less need to book days ahead to ensure getting a slot. 

We welcome the increased availability of VBS slots increase, but a scarce haulage resource is now spread even thinner, with the recent vessel diversions from Felixstowe into London Gateway, and Southampton, or simply omitting the UK entirely, impacting operations at these ports. 

Metro has established relationships with our shipping line and haulage suppliers, enabling us to use a combination of line, merchant, and preferred road & rail haulage and ensure we are proactive in our intermodal solutions. Our dedicated teams and multimodal experts are always on hand to make sure that our service and communication can keep your supply chains moving.