Don't mandate extended gate hours

Don't mandate extended gate hours

During the 1984 Summer Olympics, Los Angeles showed the world that regional planning and cooperation really do work. By changing our driving habits during the games, the people of Los Angeles demonstrated that traffic congestion and gridlock could be improved. We need to look back at the 1984 Olympics and apply what we learned to help us address traffic congestion and air quality in Southern California, especially around our ports.

Traffic congestion in the Los Angeles basin is getting worse, aggravated by the large amount of cargo flowing to and from the bustling ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to cargo receivers throughout Southern California.

What the Olympics taught us was that we need the cooperation of the entire transportation network to make things better. To cut congestion on our freeways, everyone involved in moving cargo must work together. All the parties need to be prepared to change their habits and business practices so that together we can make meaningful changes.

Rather than dictating strict systems to alleviate congestion, we need to develop incentives that will encourage stakeholders to change behavior without adding a new set of regulatory burdens.

Some people say requiring extended gate hours for the ports and marine terminals is the answer. This solution assumes that if we force the ports and maritime businesses to remain open, trucks will show up to get cargo, distribution centers will open and cities will allow nighttime activities within their borders. History has shown this is a poor assumption to make.

Forcing maritime terminals to stay open for longer hours will not shift cargo moves to off-peak hours. It will add costs to terminal operations, which will result in higher costs for consumers. The answer is what worked before, "alternative hours of operation" that encourage goods to move during nights and weekends without increasing costs.

As chairman of the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee and chairman of the Select Committee on the I-5/710 Freeway Expansion, I know there are things we can do to encourage importers and exporters to change the way they do business and begin moving more cargo at night. In fact, I believe many of these businesses, under the right circumstances, would prefer to move cargo at night because it means less congestion for them as well.

What steps do we need to take that will result in a successful solution? We need to require that everyone involved in the international supply chain sit down together and work out the complex logistics of moving more cargo at night.

Cargo movement decisions are made by thousands of businesses and individuals who are part of the complex international supply chain. Some are large retailers who bring in thousands of containers every year. Others are midsize businesses that may handle their own transportation arrangements or may use third-party logistics managers. And then there are the thousands and thousands of small businesses whose imported merchandise may not even fill a single cargo container. They rely on a vast network of trade specialists. When we understand what is possible, we can set realistic goals to shift peak-hour activities to non-peak hours.

We also need to make sure we don't overlook the important lifestyle considerations of the men and women who work on the waterfront and at cargo-receiving facilities. Shifting cargo to night moves may help ease traffic congestion. But it is going to disrupt the lives of maritime workers and truck drivers who will now be asked to work during the night while their families sleep. And the transition must be carefully planned so we don't jeopardize the efficiency of the ports. Security is an overwhelming concern, and men and women who work at the ports need a solution that makes sense to them.

We also need to be careful that we don't make it so costly to use California ports that importers and exporters look elsewhere for gateways to American markets.

For all of these reasons, I plan to seek legislation to work out collaborative and effective ways of reducing traffic congestion. The measure will be based on the principles that made the Olympic experience successful - encourage cooperation, provide incentives, develop alternatives and make the changes fair and flexible. By following those principles, the Legislature can craft a solution that is sensitive to needs of the public and the businesses that operate in and around the ports.

Rudy Bermudez is a California state assemblyman representing portions of Los Angeles and Orange counties. He can be reached at (562) 864-5600, or via e-mail at Assemblymember.Bermudez@assembly.ca.gov.