The trade group representing drayage companies in the Southern California area is expressing optimism about a plan by the Port of Long Beach to implement changes aimed at getting a better balance of incoming and outgoing containers.
“This is a huge step in the right direction,” Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, said of the goals announced by the Port of Long Beach last week. “Most importantly, it was the port taking a leadership role in working with terminals as their landlord to discuss initiatives and to help mitigate the issues.”
The port last week said it was “collaborating” with the terminal owners at Long Beach to increase the number of what it called “two-way” truck deliveries at Long Beach, in which a drayage truck brings in a container and takes one out in the same trip. Dual transactions is the other term used for that sort of round trip.
LaBar and the HTA have become vocal in recent months about the situation at the port, where an influx of imports has created what many have described as chaos, particularly with the number of dual transactions plummeting. A mismatch between where the containers are and where they are needed has grown, with LaBar criticizing the recent growth of vessel alliances that he said contribute to that mismatch and the drop in dual transactions.
According to a prepared statement released by the port, the four companies that operate the six terminals in Long Beach “have committed to increasing the number of truck moves that pair an export container delivery with an import container pickup appointment during the same visit.”
Those companies are International Transportation Service, Long Beach Container Terminal, SSA Marine and Total Terminals.
The HTA also has called for improvements in the appointment system that instructs a drayage driver when to drop off and pick up containers. The port’s announcement said it and the terminal operators “are working directly with truck drivers and customers to improve the appointment system and maximize the number of these dual transactions.”
The port’s statement said its goal is to reach 50% of all deliveries being part of a dual transaction. It did not disclose the current level in its statement, and a phone call to the port’s media relations team had not been returned by publication time. However, the port’s statement also said that some terminals have reached the 70% level.
“Prioritizing dual transactions will ultimately increase truck operation efficiencies while also helping the Port handle record cargo volumes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said in a statement.
LaBar said the sister Port of Los Angeles had announced recently an incentive program to encourage dual transactions. “Both ports realize the importance of this,” he said.
The participant in the ecosystem that has not been heard from publicly are the vessel owners, with one exception. Maersk has put out a statement expressing support and vowing to work with the HTA and other groups to ease the bottleneck. But beyond that, LaBar said, “we need them to come to the table.” Still, LaBar said the efforts undertaken by Long Beach and Los Angeles are “measurable wins.”
LaBar also said recently he has seen a “slight case-by-case” change in some practices by vessel lines, such as some waiving of detention and other charges.