The Port of Long Beach reported Wednesday that it moved more cargo in 2021 than any year in its 110-year history. The news was not a surprise: The world had watched as the port was flooded with what it called a “historic, pandemic-induced import surge.”
During 2021, the Southern California port handled 9,384,368 twenty-foot equivalent units, a 15.7% increase from the previous record of more than 8.11 million TEUs set just a year earlier. Imports increased 14.6% year-over-year to 4,581,846 TEUs, while exports declined 2.6% to 1,437,916 TEUs. Empty containers moved through the port jumped 27.5% to 3,364,606 TEUs.
“The strong economic momentum experienced through 2021 hit a speed bump by year’s end due to the rampant spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19,” the Port of Long Beach said in a press release announcing the record-setting year.
Trade was down 7.5% in December compared to the same month in 2020, with 754,314 container units moved, the port said. Imports declined 11.7% to 358,687 TEUs and exports dropped 13.9% to 113,918 TEUs. Empty containers moved increased 1.5% to 281,709 TEUs.
One annual figure that declined in 2021 was the number of vessel calls. The Port of Long Beach said it had 980 container vessel calls in 2021, down from 1,042 the year before because of the “elimination of dual calls for some shipping services that moved up and down the West Coast.”
Container dwell fee still on hold
While the port did not mention the historic San Pedro Bay congestion that has drawn worldwide attention, it did say it “collaborated with stakeholders at the local, state and federal levels to enhance cargo movements, including expanding hours of operation, creating temporary staging areas for full containers and encouraging truck drivers to drop off export containers when picking up an import.”
Both the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have delayed implementation of a container dwell fee several times since the plan to charge ocean carriers for containers remaining on the docks too long was announced in late October. Since the fee was first threatened in the fall, the two ports “have seen a combined decline of 55% in aging cargo on the docks,” according to Wednesday’s press release.
The ports now say they will revisit the implementation of a dwell fee on Friday. The plan had been to charge ocean carriers $100 per long-dwelling container, increasing in $100 increments per container per day.
Efficiency improvements still sought
Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said the 2021 record was set while the West Coast gateway continues to “seek solutions to improve efficiency, attract business and build for the future.”
“I look forward to enhancing productivity in 2022 by advancing our move toward 24/7 terminal operations, deploying data-sharing technologies for our industry partners and continuing our infrastructure improvements,” Cordero said.
Challenges ahead, as well as those from last year, are expected to be addressed during the 2022 State of the Port, scheduled for 9 a.m. PST Feb. 9.
One challenge in 2021 was how to push the trucking of containers to and from the ports to nights and weekends. According to a West Coast Marine Terminal Operator Agreement (WCMTOA) announcement this week, the latest effort was not particularly successful.
WCMTOA said the traffic mitigation fee (TMF) will return to its pre-December rate of $34.21 per TEU on Feb. 1. It had announced in November that the TMF would be hiked to $78.23 per TEU between Dec. 1 and Jan. 31 and would be charged only on weekdays during the daytime shift. WCMTOA said the move was designed as a financial incentive to move more containers at the ports of Long Beach and LA during off-peak hours.
But according to a WCMTOA press release Tuesday, “over the course of the seven weeks since the TMF’s temporary adjustment was implemented, and with outreach to the entire supply chain and all of its users, the proportion of gate activity during the day shift versus the night shift did not change from where it has been averaging since 2018.”
The PierPass OffPeak Program was established in 2005 to mitigate traffic congestion around the San Pedro Bay port complex by charging a fee for daytime container moves during the week. The program was modified in 2018 with the implementation of an appointment system rather than “incentive pricing.”