How Big Data Can Improve Intermodal Transportation at Ports: The Drayage Model at Port Metro Vancouver

Port Metro Vancouver in the Canadian province of British Columbia is the busiest port in Canada. With more than three major marine intermodal rail terminals, port authorities are continually looking for new ways to improve trucker access and operations in the busy region.

TranSystems worked with the Port Metro Vancouver planning staff to develop a model that uses big data to identify areas for improvement and outline strategies for more efficient transfer of intermodal containers and reduced congestion at the terminals.


The Drayage Model uses GPS data from the intermodal trucks to quantify patterns of container movements between port intermodal rail, regional intermodal rail, and area distribution centers in the Port Metro Vancouver region.

Because the model uses raw GPS data as its basis, collecting accurate data proved imperative for the modeling and analysis to be successful. Port Metro Vancouver conducted a GPS study over several years and fine-tuned the GPS implementation technology, validating the accuracy and reliability of the collected data.

There are several methods or types of intermodal flows, and the proportion of these flows directly impacts the quantity and type of truck trips that are generated by the port. To leverage the GPS data, a planning framework was developed that integrates the data with planning models of the port terminal operations and truck trip generation based on the proportion of the different types of intermodal flows used.


As part of the design process for the Drayage Model, TranSystems held a series of workshops with Port Metro Vancouver staff to identify planning scenarios based on current and possible future topics. The workshops helped determine the level of detail needed from GPS data processing and scenario input variables. Here are the types of scenarios that came from the workshops, then tested with the Drayage Model:

• Extended Gate Capacity: This scenario explores the impact of having terminal gates available 15 working hours a day, 7 daysa week as opposed to the current 8 hour, 5 days a week schedule. The premise was based on the notion, “If shipping lines, rail lines, and terminals all operate 24/7, then why not the drayage sector?”

• Double-ended Move Coordination: This explores a future situation where double-ended moves account for more than 50 percent of all truck moves. The drayage sector would employ a system where terminals would make available import and export reservations visible to truckers and dispatchers. Truckers and dispatchers would then be able to pair-up an import with an export that makes sense for their distribution routes, clients, and off-dock relationships, creating double-ended reservations.

• 7-Year and 10-year Rolling Truck Age Restrictions: Over the course of the last 10-15 years, truck technologies have significantly progressed, especially in terms of fuel efficiency and emissions. The 7-year Rolling Truck-Age Restriction scenario explores the impact of evolving technologies on the drayage sector. Specifically, it asks the question “What if drayage trucks older than 7 years or 10 years were forced to retire?”

The port staff also asked the Drayage Model to determine the preferred quantity of drayage trucks that should be operating in the region to ensure economic viability for the operators and reduce congestion. Using the model, the team created scenarios where the quantity of trucks was restricted vs. not restricted, to compare the performance and financial differences. The model was able to demonstrate that the number of trucks could be restricted and the level of economic benefit that would result.


Because the Drayage Model allows for the scope to be modified as new or more data is added, new intermodal improvement scenarios become available to explore. The ability to import and process new data also becomes important to provide an up-to-date analysis framework that will reflect performance differences as strategies are implemented and business conditions change.

With its ability to create current snapshots of drayage activity, patterns and analyses, the Drayage Model has the ability to benchmark trends and identify areas for improvement.

For Port Metro Vancouver, the model has proved a successful means to assess and develop intermodal transportation strategies that meet the financial and operational objectives of the shipper community, and their responsibilities to the environment and quality of life in their region.

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