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American ShipperIntermodal

SoCal ports see smooth launch of truck program

SoCal ports see smooth launch of truck program

The official launch of a trucking re-regulation program at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles appeared to go off without a hitch Wednesday, with trucks moving easily through terminal gates and even small hiccups in the plan predicted by the ports not materializing.

   Port of Long Beach Executive Director Richard Steinke, watching trucks enter the Long Beach Container Terminal Wednesday morning, said the port was excited that the program was under way.

   'I think this is a great day for us,' Steinke said. 'A lot of people questioned whether we were going to be able to make it happen on Oct. 1. We are here, stickers are affixed, we are going to be controlling access into the terminals, and this is a great day for us to move forward with the Clean Air Action Plan.'

   Next door at the Port of Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa officially launched his port's truck program, saying, 'People said the fight would be too hard, but we kept on truckin’ because we knew that the people of our port communities needed relief.'

   The truck program, a key component of the two Southern California ports' omnibus environmental Clean Air Action Plan, seeks to significantly cut ports-generated diesel emissions by modernizing the local short-haul truck fleet of nearly 17,000 vehicles with 2007 or newer model year trucks.

   To accomplish this the ports developed three main truck program components — a progressive multiyear ban on older trucks starting with pre-1989 models, a $35-per-TEU container tax to fund the truck replacements, and the issuing of port access licenses to trucking firms that meet the ports' qualifications.

   Long Beach port officials reported more than 750 trucking firms representing 10,000 trucks had signed up for concession agreements, as of Wednesday morning. The neighboring Los Angeles port reported concession agreement applications from more than 500 trucking firms representing more than 20,000 trucks.

   On Wednesday, the pre-1989 ban was in full force, with the ports reporting compliance by more than 95 percent of the trucks calling at the ports' terminals. Trucking firms who had signed up for access licenses were issued compliance stickers for their trucks by the ports. The stickers, affixed to the either the truck door or windshield, allowed terminal personnel to quickly assess the status of the truck and turn any non-compliant trucks away.

   'This is like the first day of school,' said Robert Kanter, managing director of environmental affairs and planning at the Port of Long Beach. 'You've got kids trying to find out where there room is, what class they are in, or they want to change classes, so we are going to have some small hiccups. We have tried to anticipate these as much as we can but we are going to get through it.'

   However, while not a hiccup, the sticker system was a last-minute addition to the truck plan by the two ports to temporarily take the place of an electronic compliance system, called PortCheck, that is not expected to be deployed for several weeks, according to the ports. The lack of the PortCheck system has also required the ports to postpone the collection of the $35-per TEU tax until the electronic system is up and running.

   While truck traffic appeared light throughout the port area, a sampling of terminal operators found that most experienced about a 10 percent drop in truck volume over last Wednesday. The decline was so small, said terminal officials, it was impossible to attribute it to the start of the truck plan.

   The Marine Exchange of Southern California, which monitors the two ports, said there were a normal number of vessels being worked at the ports and no incidents of truck congestion at the various terminals had been reported.

   By Wednesday evening, it appeared that even the hiccups anticipated by Kanter failed to materialize. The terminals said they had each turned away less than two-dozen trucks throughout the day. Given that the two ports typically see 20,000 to 30,000 gate moves each day, even several hundred trucks being turned away throughout the ports represents less than 1 percent of all truck moves.

   However, not everyone was as happy as the ports with the start of the truck program.

   The American Trucking Associations, which represents more than 37,000 trucking firms nationwide and has sued in federal court to block the program, said that while it was disappointed that the truck program had started, it was good to see that the pre-1989 trucks appeared to be out of the port service.

   ATA, in its suit and a failed attempt to have a U.S. District Court to issue an injunction against the plan, had not opposed the truck ban or container tax components of the plan, but argued that the access license component violated federal shipping laws. An appeal of the lower court ruling on the injunction is expected to be heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals before the end of the year and the full suit in lower court continues to move forward.

   The trucking association said its focus Wednesday was on the impacts of the truck program to the local trucking firms.

   'We are concerned that there are a lot of trucking firms that have already been put out of business by this plan,' said Curtis Whalen, executive director of the Intermodal Motor Carrier Conference arm of the ATA.

   Whalen noted that hundreds of trucking firms that were in the drayage business until this week are now prevented from servicing the two ports by the truck program.

   'We have to ask: what are the environmental returns on this plan compared to the loss of trucking firms,' Whalen said.

   Jeffery Standart, who runs drayage firm XRT Express Transport Express in Wilmington, said that 30 percent to 40 percent of his regular drivers are planning to leave the area because they do not wish to be employees, as the Los Angeles version of the truck program requires.

   'This is crippling to our business,' said Standart, whose trucking firm contracts with 30 to 100 truck drivers depending on the season. 'I think it is restraint of trade. The ports are cutting off their nose to spite their face — they just don't realize that it is not just their face they are hurting.'

   XRT, which handles mostly agricultural exports, has been operating at the two ports for more than 20 years. Like all trucking firms wishing to continue in the local drayage service after Wednesday, Standart has applied for access licenses with the two ports.

   Standart said the requirements of the access licenses, including providing the ports with maintenance records of all trucks, are pointless.

   'The ports are not trucking experts, and even if I give them the information, they are not going to know what they are looking at,' Standart said.

   Another concern raised about the truck program, even by the ports, has been that no one seems to know where the more than 2,300 pre-1989 trucks identified in the local fleet last year and banned as of Wednesday have gone.

   The ports originally intended to scrap these older trucks as drivers applied for replacement grants and subsidies from the ports.

   However, the ports, as of last week, had signed up less than 200 such drivers.

   Officials at both ports, while pleased that these older trucks are no longer in service at the ports, have said in the past that they are concerned about the possibility that the drivers have simply moved the trucks outside of the ports. This would mean that they could still be contributing to local pollution. A field survey conducted several weeks ago at the Port of Los Angeles found that less than 15 trucks out of 1,200 trucks sampled were 1988 model year or older.

   Long Beach's Steinke said that while the port may never have exact numbers about how many pre-1989 trucks were actually taken out of service by the truck ban, 'I think we will have more information about six months from now than we currently do regarding the makeup of the trucks and the number of companies.'

   And while the Southern California ports celebrate the start of the truck program, port officials are aware that many other ports are looking at the truck program with the intention of copying it.

   Steinke said that it is in the best interest of these other ports to do so.

   'I think that (other ports) recognize that trucks add to the pollution portfolio of the ports and that they are going to have to take a look at that and assess where they are. A lot of ports don't have as many trucks as L.A./L.B. but some of the characteristics are the same. So, I think they will take a look at what we are doing and model it to their circumstances at the individual ports,' Steinke said. ' Keith Higginbotham