Pier Pressure

Because of cargo delays, traffic congestion, air pollution and a shortage of longshore workers, the marine terminal operators’ group in LA/Long Beach, known as PierPass Inc., proposed to initiate a program calling for extended gate hours. This plan, outlined this past August, gained the approval of the Federal Maritime Commission and was intended to encourage the movement of exports and imports during off-peak hours making it possible for trucks to move faster over less crowded highways. The plan called for one extended gate per month to be phased in for five consecutive months. As a further inducement, PierPass proposed to impose a fee, or a fine, of $ 20 per TEU on any importer or exporter who preferred to move cargo during the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The program was to go into effect on November 1st, and support was immediately forthcoming from some of the large retailers. Rick Gabriel, of Target Corp., stated; “No one likes to see transportation costs increase, but our industry felt it was best to work together to develop a private-sector program to reduce day-time traffic”. Working together sounds good .

Late in September, however, the target date of November 1st had to be moved back a few months because the difficulties that inspired this good sounding idea in the first place, delays and a shortage of longshore labor, also turned out to be the hangups which stood in the way of the idea’s implementation. There were no personnel available and no electronic means of collecting the fees, or fines. How ironic.

Now it’s November and the truckers are having their say. They’ve said that opening just one gate would not provide them with enough flexibility to adjust their weekly schedules. They’ve insisted on five extended gates per week and participation by all of the harbor terminals. Scott Smith of Eagle Marine Services is quoted as saying that, “Truckers made it clear that a sufficient number of evening shifts must be available to them each week before they will adjust their lives to working nights”. PierPass agreed to speed up the program and phase in the five gates within the first month.

Time to do some more math. PierPass Inc. proposes to collect the fees and administer the program, and along with an advisory committee from the shipper and transportation community, PierPass will evaluate the program to determine if the fees being collected cover the true costs incurred by terminal operators for running extended gates. Here’s where it gets tricky. More truckers conforming produce less fees, right? More truckers conforming require more gates, right? More gates in operation require more money, right? So where’s the money for the increasing cost of gate operations coming from if fewer fees are being collected from truckers?

The terms “helter-skelter”, “willy-nilly”, “topsy-turvy”, “herky-jerky”, all come to mind when flip-flops (there’s another one) are executed. What sounded like a good idea in this crisis is just another unworkable stop-gap measure. Owner-operators will resent being herded like cows, and Mr. Belzer made that perfectly clear when he characterized the present working conditions as “sweatshops”.

Back to the drawing board.