Drayage companies in Los Angeles-Long Beach are enlisting the help of the ports to restructure how containers are moved to and from marine terminals. The goal of this effort is to address all of the issues that contribute to port congestion and declining productivity at marine terminals.
The comprehensive approach could conceivably include a plan to better use existing data sources to improve turn times, working toward 24/7 gates at the terminals, restructuring the PierPass traffic mitigation fee, addressing the problem of chassis shortages and dislocations and possibly developing a harbor-wide dynamic appointment system.
These and other suggestions were raised at a Federal Maritime Commission hearing on port productivity in Los Angeles on Sept. 15. That was the first of four public hearings the FMC will hold in different regions of the country in the coming weeks to address how ports and marine terminals can improve productivity and trucker turn times.
If Long Beach and Los Angeles,with about 11,000 trucks, succeed in improving truck turn times and reducing port congestion, other large ports throughout North America that have struggled with these problems the past year can borrow from the best practices.
“This is a national issue,” said Alex Cherin, executive director of the Harbor Trucking Association, told the Intermodal Association of North America conference this week in Long Beach.
However, if Los Angeles and Long Beach are to discuss a robust menu of options in a meaningful way, the ports believe they must petition the FMC for permission to form a discussion agreement that will give them the legal latitude they need to discuss such topics.
This week the Long Beach Harbor Commission approved an agenda item that encourages Long Beach to work with neighboring Los Angeles to seek FMC approval for a discussion agreement. The Los Angeles Harbor Commission is expected to consider the proposal at an upcoming meeting.
Truckers said the effort must begin with determining what is an acceptable turn time at a marine terminal. Fred Johring, president of Golden State Logistics and HTA chairman, said one hour appears to me a goal that has widespread support and is achievable. In fact, the majority of single transactions (involving either an inbound or outbound container move) actually take an hour or less.
However, with port congestion increasing, close to 25 percent of the truck visits in August lasted more than two hours, sometimes four or five hours, which contributes greatly to port congestion. “This is the worst we’ve ever seen it,” Johring said. It is the outliers, rather than the majority of smooth transactions, that kill trucker enthusiasm for harbor work.
If drivers, most of whom are paid by the trip, can not average three turns per day, they will not be able to earn a living. The consequences will be an exodus of owner-operators from harbor work, a capacity crunch in the harbor and a more accepting attitude among drivers for unionization, Johring said.
PierPass, an entity established by the 13 container terminal operators in Los Angeles-Long Beach in 2005 to address port congestion and long truck lines, has succeeded through a program of extended gates and a traffic mitigation fee on daytime truck calls to push more than 50 percent of truck traffic in the harbor to off-peak night and weekend hours.
While PierPass has spread traffic out over 16 hours per day, versus eight hours for operations at most ports, the traffic mitigation fee has pushed long truck lines to the evening gates because retailers send their trucks to the harbor at 6 p.m. to avoid paying the fee. “PierPass creates a problem in and of itself,” Johring said.
The current fee on daytime moves is about $133 per 40-foot container, but that is applied only on truck moves during the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift. Johring suggested that a much smaller fee applied to every container handled at the port would generate the revenue that terminal operators need to maintain a steady program of five night and weekend gates each week.
Harbor truckers would like to eventually have 24/7 gate operations, but Johring conceded that container volumes at present may not be enough to support round-the-clock operations. One way to start down that path might be for the terminals to maintain uninterrupted 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. gates the following morning, with gates remaining open for lunch breaks and that critical hour from the end of the day gate at 5 p.m. and the opening of the evening gate at 6 p.m.
Trucker appointment systems are a hot-button issues at a number of ports, with some truckers totally opposed to the concept because of the difficulty of maintaining strict arrival and departure times in the complex environment of congested terminals, roadways and rail yards.
The YTI terminal in Los Angeles has been working with HTA members and the federal Department of Transportation on a pilot project known as FRATIS, which is a dynamic appointment system based on a free flow of information. Marine terminals and truckers exchange information in real time on truck lines at the terminals, delays on local freeways and other exceptions, allowing truckers to adjust their arrival times by notifying terminals of exceptions.
There is actually a wealth of electronic information available to the port industry that could assist terminal operators, intermodal rail yards and other stakeholders, but port communities lack a means of sharing this information in real-time through a common portal.
HTA for the past year has been aggregating information on trucker turn times in Los Angeles-Long Beach, and is able to identify bottlenecks at individual terminals. The trucker mobility project has found that trends emerge at certain times of the day and allow some assumptions to be derived from the data.
However, it is difficult to come up with an all-encompassing action plan because events change from day to day and terminal to terminal, even changing throughout the same day at individual terminals, based upon vessel arrivals, rail or roadway congestion, equipment shortages and other factors that occur frequently in the complex harbor environment.
Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @billmongelluzzo