LONG BEACH, Calif. — Whether it means improving trucker turn times at marine terminals or mitigating the cost of California-only environmental regulations, Long Beach and Los Angeles must work harder than ever if they want to retain their position as the nation’s largest port complex, speakers at the annual Pulse of the Ports seminar in Long Beach said Wednesday.
Transportation interests in Southern California last year formed a “Beat the Canal” group to improve the competitive position of Los Angeles and Long Beach as they prepare for completion of the Panama Canal enlargement project in 2015. Bigger vessels will then be able to transit the new locks in all-water services from Asia to the East Coast.
However, the ports risk the loss of cargo today if they look at the Panama Canal as a singular event and do not address competition that already exists from Prince Rupert, British Columbia. And carriers this spring will initiate services with post-Panamax container ships from Asia to the East Coast via the Suez Canal, said John McLaurin, president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.
“We simply need to beat the competition,” said McLaurin, whose membership includes shipping lines and terminal operators on the West Coast.
McLaurin cited the added cost of shipping through the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland because of environmental regulations affecting vessels, trucks, trains, terminal operators. The California Air Resources Board estimates that such California-only regulations come at a total cost to the industry of $5 billion, he said.
However, California has set a benchmark for other ports located in regions that do not meet federal air quality standards. The Los Angeles-Long Beach clean trucks program, for example, reduced emissions from 10,000 trucks by more than 80 percent in less than five years by requiring the use of 2007 or newer engines.
“Other ports are looking to Long Beach as a model,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation.
Container terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach continue to struggle with long truck lines. Vic La Rosa, CEO of Total Transportation Service Inc., said truckers must complete a terminal trip within an hour in order to be profitable. Studies have shown that at the better terminals 60 percent of the moves are completed in an hour, and at the lesser-performing terminals, only 20 percent of the moves meet the hour deadline, he said.
A possible solution to this problem would be to use computer technology to develop a dynamic appointment system, similar to what the airlines have, to manage traffic at marine terminals, La Rosa said.
Chassis availability is another pressing issue now that shipping lines are exiting the chassis business. In Los Angeles-Long Beach, the problem is magnified by a sprawling port complex in which 13 terminals service 24 container lines with 10 chassis pools.
“Ten chassis pools are an administrative nightmare for the transportation community,” La Rosa said. Addressing this problem should start with the formation of a neutral, or gray chassis fleet, in which equipment can be freely interchanged among stakeholders in the port complex, he said.