Heading for Trouble

PierPass. That’s the punitive fee system imposed upon drivers using the LA-Long Beach terminal complex during daylight hours. This devious penalty – known as the Traffic Mitigation Fee (TMF) – was intended to alleviate traffic problems along routes leading from those two terminals, and has been in effect (and ineffective) since 2005. But except for the enormous amount of money collected by those at the top, has this stratagem achieved the results the dreamers and schemers promised the community and the underpaid truck drivers? Let’s see.

In mid-January, the president of PierPass posted a lengthy “apologia” in his News and Updates Newsletter. It’s much too long to reprint here – and it’s much too long for the average Joe to read, we might add – but here’s some of the message that came through … between the lines. (Even the headline on the posting was quite lengthy.)

“Marine Terminal Operators at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach Launch Initiative to Speed Cargo Moves by Reducing Trouble Tickets” – [Pretty much the same wording used to introduce the system in 2005, isn’t it?]

“LONG BEACH, Calif., – PierPass Inc. today announced an initiative to reduce the number of transaction problems experienced when trucks pick up or deliver containers at the marine terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. These problems – exceptions from normal processes that result in the issuance of ‘trouble tickets’ – lead to substantial delays in container movements through the terminals.

“About 5% of all transactions at terminals in the United States result in trouble tickets, which on average add about an hour to the ‘turn time,’ the amount of time a truck spends at a terminal, according to a 2011 report by the National Cooperative Freight Research Program (NCFRP). The report found that ‘exceptions from normal processes are a major source of delay and cost. The long ‘tails’ on the turn time data, in particular, suggest that around 5% of the cases consume much more than the normal time and expense.’ Most trouble tickets can be prevented through better communications before a truck arrives at the terminal gates, the NCFRP report said.

“PierPass has surveyed terminal operators at the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports to determine the most common causes of trouble tickets, and found that the situation at the two adjacent ports matches what NCFRP found nationally. While trouble tickets are caused by a range of issues, they are usually tied to inaccurate or incomplete information about an import container delivery or an export booking problem. When issued a trouble ticket, the driver typically has to go to a ‘trouble window’ or office to get the issue resolved. This results in delays for customers and truckers and higher costs for terminal operators …

“At the APL Terminal in the Port of Los Angeles, the largest group of trouble tickets (34%) in July and August 2012 were issued when truckers arrived to pick up containers that were on hold.

Containers can be put on hold for a variety of reasons including U.S. Customs release, agricultural inspection, and unpaid steamship charges or Traffic Mitigation Fees.

“The second-largest group (20%) was due to the container number not matching the number on the Bill of Lading, which can also be checked online before delivering a container. In total, about 5% of all gate transactions – 2,500 in all – ended up at the trouble window. APL says 65% of all trouble tickets during that period could have been resolved before the truck came to the terminal.

“In 2011, the Los Angeles and Long beach ports, terminals and trucking community published the first comprehensive turn time study at the ports using GPS technology. It found that the median turn time inside the terminals during the period studied was 31 minutes per visit, and that 88% of trucks took less than 2 hours per visit. The study also found:

– The median time trucks spent in queue waiting to get into the gates was 20 minutes and the terminal time 31 minutes, for a total visit time of 51 minutes.
– Some have implied that it is typical to wait three hours to get into a terminal. But the study showed that only 9% of queue waits were more than an hour.
– Only 3% of visits took three hours or more, including queue time and terminal time …

“Terminal operators are undertaking a series of efforts to help customers get caught up on cargo moves through the port. These efforts include:

– Flex-starting the gates one hour prior to the evening shift to help get trucks in and out of the gates,
– Adding additional labor to relieve gate operations for continuous receipt and delivery of trucks during breaks and lunch hours,
– Adding extra OffPeak shifts.

“These changes will begin immediately and continue until the backlog of containers is addressed …

“Some cargo interests have asked PierPass to temporarily suspend the Traffic Mitigation Fee (TMF) while the backlog is cleared. The terminal operators have evaluated and rejected the idea, which we believe could greatly increase congestion in the short term and risk undermining OffPeak’s long-term solution to port congestion …

‘OffPeak shifts handle an average of 75,000 ruck trips in a typical week, or about 55% of container moves …

“Since 2005, more than 21 million truck moves have taken place during OffPeak hours. In keeping days and nights open for trucks, our ports are more effective and productive …

“In previous News and Updates Newsletters, we talked about the unfortunate issue of the ‘trouble ticket’, how it affects truck drivers, and why we feel it is an important problem to resolve …”

[Fuhgettaboutit. It won’t be resolved because it’s a “cash cow” for the dreamers and schemers.]