Wheeling and Dealing

When rummaging through our old files last week, we turned up some interesting statements from some very authoritative people. The words we were reviewing were spoken ‘way before the PierPass concept had occurred to anyone, and ‘way back when folks managing container terminal operations had the time and the good sense to use their God-given powers of reason.

It had reached the point where terminal operators were gradually being forced to move from wheeled operations to stacking, and because stacking operations required multiple-handling of containers, normally cool and calculating port authorities faced with unexpected costs no longer had comfort zones.

Multiple-handling … inaccurately referred to as ‘double-handling’ … was the order of the day. Waterfront acreage was no longer ‘at a premium’. Waterfront acreage was no longer. Period. Increasing volumes of containers, all too often randomly and hurriedly stacked, meant that as each trucker arrived to pick up a specific container, longshoremen first had to conduct a search, then they had to move and reposition several interposed containers.

The unexpected cost of these moves was always unanticipated because the arrival of each trucker was unanticipated. Too many truckers arrived unannounced at the opening bell, each one hoping to be first in line. In order to accommodate these anxious early birds, port authorities had to increased the numbers of gates, but this only added to the stress of those who worked the terminal.

The best estimate of this additional cost for searching, repositioning and retrieving, as offered by a West Coast source back then, was $ 40 per container move, and because wheeled operations were rapidly being replaced by stacking, costs and tempers were constantly on the rise.

Although trucking companies were the first to suggest that longer gate hours could bring a reprieve, terminal operators and carriers dismissed the idea as impractical. That didn’t surprise anyone. Longer gate hours would mean overtime pay for everyone, and management could never live with that. One of the managers was even quoted as saying, “Longer gate hours help improve efficiency, but the cost to the terminal is staggering”.

Night gates can cause the terminal’s costs to double or even triple, he said, and subsequent events proved him to be correct.

What subsequent events? PierPass, of course. What was at one time seen to be impractical because of the cost to the terminals, is now being hailed as a very successful move by management. The reason for the change of heart could hardly be considered altruistic, however. The move to initiate PierPass could almost be called devious. By simply dumping the ‘staggering’ cost upon the truckers, that impractical idea can now be seen as a practical one.

[On second thought, the move was definitely a devious one.]