Another Curve Ball?

This was the headline of an October 6th article in the San Bernardino County Sun: “Study: Fees Won’t Hinder Inland Empire Shipping”… and the report makes the following points:

“With the explosion in global trade sending more trucks and trains rolling through the Inland Empire, a fee on big containers should not force shipping businesses to other regions, according to a study discussed Wednesday by the county’s transportation agency …

“The study, done for the Southern California Association of Governments, a regional planning agency, indicates that worsening congestion is just as likely to divert traffic away from the Southern California ports …

“Southern California, and particularly the fast-growing inland area, faces a crisis of congestion on its roads and rails due to the double whammy of population growth and a dramatic rise in products moving from the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach to the east …”

Some have been concerned that imposing a fee on the big boxes used to move goods by truck and train would send them to other ports, but according to the study, a fee of up to $ 200 per 40-foot container, if used for improvements to help traffic flow, would actually allow an increase in the number of containers shipped. Shippers would have to be convinced that any such fee would provide a tangible benefit in efficiency and cost, a spokesman for the Association said. The article went on to say that formal agreements are expected between local, state and federal officials to cooperate on solutions. [Which is another way of saying that they haven’t yet decided which of the taxpayers’ pockets will be rifled in order to cover the $ 200 container fees.]

Those “improvements to help traffic flow”… did the study include the 183-acre facility proposed for the Wilmington and Long Beach community? More than 300 harbor-area residents who fear worsening air pollution lambasted the Port of Los Angeles’ plans for that new rail yard at last Thursday’s public meeting. Those folks aren’t convinced that “improvements” enabling the ports to handle triple the number of today’s containers will in any way be “a tangible benefit” for them, but because they have no say in regional planning their protests will be ignored. They have no clout. Others have clout though, and transportation officials in Southern California should start doing their homework. As reported in last Thursday’s BUSINESS LINE, an official at the International Maritime Expo stated that, “Names such as DHL and Fedex, synonymous with the speed and reliability that customers seek, are likely to target container shipping lines’ customers”. He stated that these players, in order to address the infrastructure constraints, such as poor port productivity and inland bottlenecks, may even target container lines as potential acquisitions to protect their own products. “They can offer existing land-based transport networks and end-to-end shipment visibility”, the official stated. “Speed and reliability” means that DHL, Fedex and UPS, as container lines operators, would avoid the ports of LA/Long Beach like the plague. [Fran Inman, remember, wondered what fees would lead to the “tipping point”. That $ 200 container fee oughtta do it.]