As congestion builds at the nation’s ports, truck drivers are turning to new, specialized apps that have the potential to relieve traffic and slash profit-eating delays.

Truckers are looking at apps such as Jupigo, Quick180, DrayQ and DrayLink to swap containers outside a port’s gates, get information about loading holdups and help dispatchers locate their drivers.

Such digital tools hold the potential to increase trucker efficiency and income, said Filex Fok, an Oakland, Calif., driver and creator of Jupigo.

If truckers can save time at terminal gates and make fewer visits to the port, they can haul more cargo and make more money per trip.

The elimination of congestion at the nation’s ports is today’s most crucial trade-related issue, according to the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission.

That’s because the top three U.S. container ports in 2014 – Los Angeles, Long Beach and New York/New Jersey –  accounted for almost 50 percent of the nation’s containerized international trade. The top 11 container ports accounted for more than 85 percent, the federal commission reported.

Fok’s Jupigo attacks congestion at the Port of Oakland by facilitating street-turns — the exchange of shipping containers between harbor drivers outside the marine terminal gate — to avoid congestion.

When a ship docks at the port, drivers need to round up containers to unload the cargo and then transport the goods to nearby warehouses and distribution centers. Trucks often pile up at the port gates, waiting for the facility to open so they can collect containers.

Shipping Trucks at the Port Of Long Beach

Trucks at the Port of Long Beach. (Photo: Port of Long Beach)

Once open, a driver often must search for a specific container to match the type of cargo being transported. That causes more delays.

Jupigo helps drivers locate and swap containers outside the port.

“If drivers can exchange empty containers without entering the port, they can save hours in drive time and wait time,” Michael Zampa, spokesman for the Port of Oakland, told Trucks.com.

Other benefits include less crowding at the gates as well as reduced emissions and fuel consumption since drivers no longer have to wait for the containers.

In the past, truckers would email one another or use online chats to arrange a street-turn, according to the Port of Oakland.

However, apps can be more efficient because they automatically match drivers  who need to return empty containers with those looking to get one, so long as the equipment requirements are the same. Once the drivers are notified, they can conduct the exchange outside the port.

Gate lineups and time spent in the terminal vary between ports, depending on the level of vessel activity and cargo volume, Zampa said.

“Broadly, you can say that wait times at gates range from 15 minutes or less to more than an hour,” Zampa said.

Over the course of the day, that could accumulate to several hours for multiple trips.

With cargo volume growing this year at Oakland, the nation’s seventh-largest port, the amount of activity at the gates and container yards has increased, making congestion worse, Zampa said.

Other apps like Quick180 also address street-turns, allowing drivers to search through a map of container needs and available empty equipment in the ports of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah and Montreal.

“We provide logistics professionals the data they need to identify a single container to set up a street-turn in a precise location on a given date,” said Brendan Tompkins, chief technology officer of Quick180.

DrayQ and DrayLink, developed by a Reston, Va.-based tech firm, uses Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS technology to help dispatchers track the time drivers spend inside marine terminals.

The DrayQ app allows drivers to view terminal wait times on their phones, and DrayLink connects harbor truckers with shippers and companies that dispatch drivers.

“Ports are a unique application for this sort of thing,” said Steve Viscelli, a trucking expert and assistant professor of sociology at Swarthmore College.

Viscelli has seen a lot of apps from non-truckers that attempt to improve the efficiency of trucking —something that will “Uberize” freight.

However, because freight often has unique characteristics that only insiders are aware of, the people developing this technology need to understand what drivers are going to do and what shippers and customers want, he said.

The fact that Jupigo is designed from a trucker’s perspective shows promise, Viscelli said.

Jupigo is meant to be as easy as possible. Even the name, a mesh of letters from “Just Pick and Go,” was selected to convey the idea of convenience and simplicity, said Alex Li, the company’s spokesman.

Jupigo works because it is simple, relying on one-step “clicks,” said Henry Osaki, a sales director at Mutual Express Company and a former truck driver. Osaki has tested the app.

Viscelli believes Jupigo could be more successful than rival technologies because the designer understands what truckers are trying to do, and as a result created an app that’s finelytuned to their needs.

Street-turns are one of many tactics being used to help the trucking industry deal with port congestion and lengthy wait times at the gates.

Jupigo estimates there are between 2,000 and 3,000 street-turns conducted at the Port of Oakland every week. It figures the number will double once its app, which will be free, is launched in June.