SoCal ports set to approve stripped-down drayage overhaul plan
The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles will move next week to approve a stripped-down version of their contentious $1.8 billion port trucking overhaul plan.
The revised plan avoids labor and licensing components that have garnered near universal industry opposition and threats of litigation. The scaled-back version also extends the plan’s implementation period and abandons the ports’ self-determined emission standards in lieu of state and federal standards.
The revision also highlights a growing rift over the original truck plan between the governing boards of the two one-time competitors, with Long Beach commissioners desiring to focus on the clean air portions of the plan and the Los Angeles port remaining committed to revamping the labor and wage structure of the port trucking industry.
While neither port has officially abandoned the labor or licensing components of the plan that have drawn severe criticism from the shipping, retail and trucking industries, no mention of either component is included in the rules set to be adopted next week.
The stripped-down version of the plan — set for a vote by Long Beach port commissioners on Monday and by their Los Angeles counterparts on Thursday — will change the ports' tariffs to ban all pre-1989 model year trucks operating in the port. The result will be the loss of as many as 2,400 trucks from the port fleet of nearly 17,000 trucks when the ban takes effect Oct. 1, 2008. ( LA tariff , Long Beach tariff ) A second ban, now pushed back a year from the original plan, will take effect Jan. 1, 2010 and eliminate all 1989 to 1993 model year trucks from entering the ports. At the same time it would also ban all 1994 to 2003 model year trucks without retrofitted emission control devices. Depending on how many trucks are retrofitted by owners, this will eliminate at least 5,000 more trucks from the drayage fleet.
A third round of the rolling ban — a compression of the final two ban deadlines in the original plan — will see the elimination of all remaining pre-2007 trucks on Jan. 1, 2014. This represents a two-year extension to the time truckers will have to get up to the 2007 model year standard over the original plan.
Under these new deadlines, and depending on how many owners replace trucks on their own before 2014, more than 90 percent of the current estimated port trucking fleet of 16,800 trucks would be eliminated by Jan. 1, 2014. How these trucks will be replaced and by whom is not detailed in the new version of the plan. The original plan called for port funds, state bond funds and a port-collected gate fee to pay for the replacement of the banned trucks through a grant program. All banned trucks under the original plan were set to be replaced by the original end date of the plan in 2012. The $1.8 billion estimated cost of the original plan, to which the ports would have contributed about $200 million, was highly dependent on the potentially available bond funds and collected gate fees.
The tariff changes proposed by the ports next week will also require that all trucks working within the ports be registered by June 30, 2008 and attached with a port-supplied radio frequency identification device. The ports will program the RFID device with information that would be read each time the truck entered a port facility. Information to be provided by truck owners would include the identity and contact information of the owner, details of the truck, emission compliance information and details of how the truck fits into the ports' rolling ban schedule.
Although it is unlikely that the tariff rules will be voted down by either port, the move to approve only the truck ban portion of the original plan highlights a separation of ideological focus on the issue between the two port boards.
During a public meeting on Oct. 12, Port of Long Beach commissioners made it clear they wanted to move forward with the clean air portions of the original plan, even at the expense of dropping the two ports' previously stated goal to make all truck drivers employees of a handful of large trucking firms.
'I think initially we need to get back to the original premise. Clean up the trucks and clean up the air,' said Nick Sramek, Long Beach harbor commissioner.
'We need to not lose sight of the fact that our primary goal is to clean up the air,' added Long Beach Commissioner James Hankla.
Long Beach Commissioner Mike Walter suggested that the two ports needed to keep their focus simple regarding the truck plan. 'I want to address, first and foremost, those items that directly affect pollution. And the base case I want has nothing to do with the issues that are not related directly to pollution.'
In response, Los Angeles commissioners reaffirmed their commitment to the labor portion of the plan.
'The idea that we can not deal with a program that deals with all three of these issues [pollution, security, and labor] is completely unacceptable,' said S. David Freeman, president of the Los Angeles harbor commission.'
Despite the ports' apparent sidelining of the plan's labor and licensing components, the proposed tariff changes will still have a dramatic impact on the local port trucking industry as early as the first day of implementation.
Current port numbers for the first model year group to be banned by the ports — pre-1989 models — range from about 1,800 trucks to just under 2,400 trucks.
Economists who have studied the port trucking industry have said that each truck can be considered to represent one driver's position and four trucks need at least one back office or support staff member.
This means that with no detailed replacement plan, up to 2,400 drivers and 600 support people would be without work when the pre-1989 rule takes effect a year from now. As the average port truck firm employs 36 drivers and support staff, the combined 3,000 trucking industry positions would represent an estimate of about 83 trucking firms. If the trucks and thus the drivers and support staff disappear, these firms would cease to exist also.
Industry officials said that despite the movement by the ports on the plan, there is still frustration in the direction.
'People are spinning a yarn about what the net effects of this are going to be,' said Joe Rajkovacz a regulatory affairs specialist with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents more than 150,000 trucks across the nation.
A major concern of industry remains the impact any proposals will have on the ability of the trucking industry to continue moving goods.
The lack of drivers also threatens to drive down port productivity. The trucking industry is already operating at the barest minimum of workforces, and has found it increasingly difficult to recruit new drivers to make up for those lost through attrition. Add into this the expected 20 percent cut in the local trucking industry next year when the federal government introduces their long-awaited Transportation Worker Identification Card at the ports and the result would be an overall loss of more than 35 percent of the port drayage drivers.
Under the original truck plan introduced in March, the ports would determine who could and could not operate a truck in the ports by issuing operating licenses to port-area trucking firms. The plan would have used ports-defined criteria to only allow those trucking firms with 'deep pockets' access to Southern California port facilities, according to statements by port officials. Through the use of a rolling ban introduced each Jan. 1 between 2008 and 2012, older trucks would be banned outright from operating in the ports. The plan was also set to charge a terminal access fee to all pre-2007 model year trucks with port licenses. These funds, in conjunction with port and taxpayer funds, were to provide funds to the same licensed trucking firms for the replacement or retrofit of their truck fleets with 2007 or newer model year vehicles.
A spokesperson for the Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference said that the industry accepted long ago that the cleaner trucks were inevitable.
'We are encouraged that the ports are looking at the clean portion of their plan,' said Curtis Whalen, executive president of the Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference.
However, the IMCC, which had previously threatened to sue over the original ports' plan, said Thursday that its lawyers were trying to determine if the proposed tariff changes would require a legal response.
The Federal Maritime Commission, which has jurisdiction over port shipping regulation, said that while the ports did not need to notify it of tariff changes, the agency continues to evaluate the overall port truck plan. Earlier this month, several industry groups asked the FMC to investigate the ports' truck plan for various violation of federal law.