Any Storm In A Port …

With respect to the difficulties facing truck drivers, we’ve quoted some of the most knowledgeable and respected officials in the maritime and transportation industries, such as:

The Teamsters’ Chuck Mack: “Conditions are so bad that the turnover rate among these port drivers exceeds 150% this year as they cycle in and out of the industry.”

Bridge Terminal Transport’s Clark Brown: “We estimate that more than 50,000 drivers — roughly one third of the total — have left the profession since 2000. Inadequate income is the top cause.”

Maersk’s Russ Bruner: “It all begins and ends with the trucker … Truckers have to be paid more …”

The University of Michigan’s Michael B. Belzer: “If the problem is not resolved soon, you won’t have to worry about gridlock because there won’t be any trucks on the road.”

Were port officials paying any attention to these words of caution? Not really. PierPass was already on the drawing board, and with a few thousand more port workers, this program, they figured, would take care of all that mattered. A look back on events of the past year, however, will reveal that the steps taken to relieve congestion and traffic tie ups in the LA/Long Beach area were never intended to benefit the truckers. These drivers are worse off than ever, in fact, and as predicted, they’re beginning to show their heels. Just last week a newspaper article in Virginia revealed that a California trucking firm has set up an operation in that state bringing five independent drivers with them, with more determined to follow. Virginia officials gave a presentation in Southern California, and of the 50 drivers in attendance all 50 expressed an interest in migrating, the article reported.

Even though the LA TIMES printed a lengthy article last week about the hardships being endured by port truckers, the story received more attention in other states than it did in California. A leading Hawaiian periodical saw the importance of this developing crisis and cited a 40-year old driver’s plan to quit the industry. The story focused on the pressures this driver is feeling from the port-imposed PierPass program. The strain of longer working hours with no added compensation for those required night time operations, the added expense of higher diesel prices, the inability to get adequate sleep during daytime hours, the costs of maintenance and repairs to an aging vehicle, and absence from home and a normal family life were his chief complaints. He also complained about unnecessary delays and the general disarray within the port, and said that several of his friends have already quit. None of them miss the port, he added.

Officials are expecting an increase of one million TEUs in 2006 for the LA/Long Beach port complex and because their stated intention is to increase throughput at each terminal, these numbers will bring further woes to the truckers. It’s beginning to look now as though Ron Carver of the Teamsters knew what he was talking about when he predicted that the flawed PierPass program would likely lead to exhausted drivers, as well as an increase in accidents and fraudulent HOS logs.