Wal-Mart commits to non-peak boxes

Wal-Mart commits to non-peak boxes

LOS ANGELES -- A proposal to extend the gate hours at marine terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach got a major boost with Wal-Mart Stores making a public commitment to move at least 25,000 containers a year during non-peak hours.

"All we ask is that they be full-service gates," Stefan Hargrove, general manager of direct imports, said Wednesday, who added that the number of Wal-Mart containers in the program could grow.

The 13 container terminal operators in the nation's largest port complex are under heavy political pressure to help reduce truck traffic on Southern California freeways during the peak commuter hours.

State Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, told the transportation community that if the private sector does not come up with a plan to cut truck traffic by Feb. 20, 2004, the deadline for filing bills in the California Legislature, he will submit legislation.

At least a half-dozen groups have proposed plans for extending gate hours at marine terminals in order to push more traffic into the nighttime hours. Most plans have bogged down because importers and exporters have failed to commit enough traffic to the off-peak period for terminal operators to justify extended gates.

The Waterfront Coalition, a national organization that includes many of the country's largest importers, attempted to launch a pilot project, but after surveying about 1,600 shippers in Southern California, the coalition could guarantee only about 200 gate moves per night at each of the facilities. Terminal operators say they need at least 500 truck moves to cover the $15,000 to $20,000 it costs to run an extended gate.

At a meeting last week hosted by the city and Port of Los Angeles, 60 individuals from every sector of the international supply chain formed a working group to pursue the issue of extended gates. At that meeting, Hargrove said Wal-Mart will commit at least 25,000 moves a year to the program.

In an interview Wednesday, Hargrove said Wal-Mart's distribution center in Mira Loma, Calif., is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so it can receive containers at any time the terminals agree to run an extended gate.

The goal of such a program is for all of the terminals to run extended gates at the same time. Hargrove said it is important that most of the terminals be open because importers normally receive inbound loads through several terminals, and often they must return empty containers to other facilities.

Terminal operators and harbor truckers say a program of extended gate hours will succeed only if enough large and small shippers keep their distribution centers open longer so they can receive and ship freight during the off hours.