Complying with the PortCheck and PierPass programs in Los Angeles-Long Beach is a cumbersome task that is motivating shippers and freight intermediaries to look to other gateways for their discretionary cargo.
While most transportation companies support the goal of the ports' clean truck program, which is to expeditiously retire old, polluting trucks from the harbor, complying with the PortCheck mechanism is costly and burdensome for cargo interests.
"It's the process," said Lisa Waller, vice president-import at BDG International in Chicago.
Waller told the annual conference of the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America that dozens of her containers are drayed from the harbor to rail transfer yards by trucks that comply with the ports' strict emission standards.
Nevertheless, Waller has to "claim" the shipments via PortCheck and pay a $35 per-TEU fee. However, since clean trucks are used, PortCheck refunds the payment about 30 days later.
Waller said the process costs her company thousands of dollars in employee wages, wasted time and reduced cash flow, all because PortCheck is not equipped to simply waive the fee for intermodal shipments that are trucked to a rail yard.
She is so upset that she is checking out Vancouver, Canada, as an alternate gateway. Vancouver does not charge clean-truck fees, and there is no harbor maintenance fee in Canada as there is at U.S. ports. "We can save $85 a container," Waller said.
Los Angeles broker Dan Meylor with Carmichael International has complained to the ports about the cumbersome requirement to claim intermodal shipments under PortCheck. Meylor said the ports are investigating the possibility of establishing certain exemptions, but they better hurry.
"The ports have shot themselves in the foot. Cargo is leaving L.A.-Long Beach," he said.
Meylor and other Southern California customs brokers are also angry about a recent decision by marine terminal operators to drop one of five extended gates that had been offered in Los Angeles-Long Beach under the PierPass program.
PierPass, which has been in operation since 2004, is generally credited with helping to eliminate port congestion. Terminal operators agreed to offer four night gates and one Saturday gate each week.
Earlier this year, with cargo volumes plummeting while operating costs were increasing, PierPass announced that the terminals would eliminate one of the extended gates each week. However, some terminals chose Wednesday nights, others Thursday nights and still others shut down their Saturday gate. This is confusing and inefficient for the transportation community, Meylor said.
The Los Angeles Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association will write a letter to PierPass demanding a reduction in the fee charged on cargo movements during the day.
"If they're going to reduce services by 20 percent, shouldn't they reduce the charges by 20 percent?" Meylor said.