Clutching at Straws

About two years ago, Clark Brown, the president of Bridge Terminal Transport, Inc., did his best to spell it out to anyone who cared to listen, that the obvious problems in our delivery system were even then staring us in the face.

“The marine intermodal drayage industry faces two important issues: the shrinking pool of available owner-operators, and congestion at ports, railyards and customer facilities,” he said.

“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,” he added.

Earlier, Michael Belzer, a research scientist at the University of Michigan Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations, had put the warning in these words:

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why there is a labor shortage … low wages, long hours, piece work and unsafe working conditions. You have working conditions that I believe can be characterized as sweatshops … I cannot comprehend why people don’t respond to this as a national crisis.”

Mr. Belzer’s remarks were paraphrased shortly thereafter by Maersk’s Philip Connors at an AAPA seminar. “It is, in my opinion, a national crisis,” he said.

Mr. Connors also provided the math to support Clark Brown’s estimate of the 50,000 driver shortfall when he informed his listeners that the national fleet of owner-operators had declined from 160,000 to 110,000 over the previous five years because of low wages and congested conditions in and around container ports.

And from Maersk’s Russ Bruner: “It all begins and ends with the trucker … Truckers have to be paid more …” But don’t hold your breath.

As if being stuck with the cost of the PierPass Initiative wasn’t enough, the so-called Clean Air Action Plan Implementation Stakeholders Task Force settled upon a scheme that will permit only paid-by-the-hour port truckers to obtain special contracts in order to operate within the ports without paying an ‘impact fee’ at the terminal gates. (Owner-operators need not apply.) Drivers without a permit would be required to pay this ‘impact fee’ each time they transit a gate. According to the planners, the money collected would ‘help’ pay for a port-developed truck replacement program.

First, the lowly-paid truckers were saddled with the cost of the PierPass initiative (as though they, and not the port officials, were responsible for the chaos at the LA/Long Beach complex), and now they’re stuck with the cost of the ‘port-developed’ truck replacement program.

[This will prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.]