The Tipping Point

Surcharge after surcharge, and fees upon fees, have been showing up on the internet of late.

• Some are referred to as “box fees”, like those required in the several bills proposed by Southern California legislators and intended to address traffic congestion, port security, rail infrastructure and environmental mitigation. The jury is still out on this, but the sentence imposed upon the taxpayer/consumer, by the unaffected jury, won’t be a light one.

• Some are referred to as “user fees”, such as those fees (fines) imposed by the PierPass project at the LA/Long Beach port complex, a program designed by a coalition of maritime interests, and intended not only to shift significant amounts of highway truck traffic from daylight (peak) hours to so-called off peak hours, but also to reduce congestion in the port and surrounding communities. At last report, a user fee of $ 40 per TEU will be the tab for those unable or unwilling to conform. As in the above “box fees”, all funding will be extracted from those who’ve had no say in the matter.

• Let’s not forget the $ 2.4 billion Alameda Corridor in Southern California. The considerable and ongoing cost of this outlet is being paid for by “user fees” as well as by taxpayers.

• The uncritical New York Times casually mentions the resurgence of trade and the way the NY/NJ port authority “is straining to respond”. The authority and the terminal operators “have begun $ 1 billion worth of expansion projects, including towering new cranes, bigger rail yards, and new and enlarged wharves, a waterfront investment that is financed in part every time a commuter uses a bridge, tunnel or regional airport”. The other “part”, of course, is financed by those have no say in the matter. Consumers and taxpayers.

• The Times also reports that the Port Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers have embarked on one of the most expensive harbor-dredging projects in the nation’s history. That project prices out at $ 2.25 billion, and will “continue day and night, seven days a week, through the next decade”. Dredging is being widely promoted to make it possible for ship owners to service ports with megaships. Megaships, of course, make it possible for carriers to pocket much higher profits, but wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect those who realize the monetary gains to do the investing? No publicly-held corporation is managed in this way because it would fail if it did, or the axe would fall on incompetent officials. Management is held accountable in the public sector but no such anxiety exists for port authorities.

All these frivolous costs trickle down to the end-user/consumer/taxpayer — the one without a say. But there will be a day of reckoning. Fran Inman, vice chair of the Transportation and Goods Movement Committee of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce seems to be one of the very few who foresees the consequences of fiscal irresponsibility. With respect to the proliferation of fees, fees and more fees, and mindful of the straw that broke the camel’s back, Inman asks, “Where is the tipping point?”