Harbor truckers urged the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to do more to make Southern California the gateway of choice for shippers and carriers, and the top item on their wish list is to reduce congestion at marine terminal gates.
The Harbor Trucking Association won the backing of Federal Maritime Commission member and former Long Beach harbor commissioner Mario Cordero, who addressed the group’s meeting on Tuesday.
“These ports should be pushed to address their congestion problems,” Cordero said.
At the same time, harbor truckers suggested that port-imposed fees such as the traffic mitigation charge on daytime traffic make the Southern California gateway less competitive, as Los Angeles and Long Beach are the only ports to charge such a fee.
Therein lies a dichotomy, though, because the traffic mitigation fee is used by terminal operators to cover some of the costs of running night and weekend gates under the PierPass program.
PierPass arose out of the especially severe congestion the ports experienced in 2004 after several years of continuous double-digit growth. The terminal operators agreed to run five night or weekend gates each week in order to reduce congestion.
PierPass has worked to the degree that more than 40 percent of the harbor truck moves now occur at night, thereby relieving some of the pressure on day gates. Los Angeles and Long Beach are the only ports in the nation that consistently run four to five night and weekend gates each week.
Nevertheless, with 30,000 truck moves a day, and large vessels with capacities of 8,000 to 13,000 20-foot containers now calling regularly at the nation’s largest port complex, bunching at the gates at certain times of the day continues to take place.
Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation, said retailers consider Los Angeles-Long Beach to be a key gateway, and their main requirement for all ports is certainty in the international supply chain.
Disruptions last November caused by the Office Clerical Unit of International Longshore and Warehouse Union in Los Angeles-Long Beach, and strike threats during International Longshoremen Association contract negotiations on the East Coast, cause great uncertainty for cargo interests.
“There’s a lot at stake here. Retailers need to have that certainty,” Gold said.
On the PierPass issue, Cordero in 2011 led an FMC fact-finding inquiry into gate issues and traffic mitigation charges, and since that study PierPass Inc. has been more transparent in its operations, he said.
Cordero also noted that the Southern California ports normally set trends in the port industry, so it would not be surprising if other ports at least considered a PierPass type of arrangement as container volumes build. “Whatever Los Angeles and Long Beach do, other ports do,” he said.
Long Beach harbor commissioner Richard Dines said that ideally the ports would work round-the-clock without having to charge any fees. When such statements are made, however, terminal operators always note that container volumes must grow to the point that they support 24-7 operations.
Also, truckers must be willing to call at the ports regardless of the time of day, and customers must be willing to pay for the additional costs involved in manning terminals round the clock.