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American Shipper

SoCal ports? truck plan enrollment lagging

SoCal portsÆ truck plan enrollment lagging

Local drayage fleet enrollments in the Southern California ports' $2.4 billion trucking re-regulation plan are lagging with less than six weeks to go before the plan's Oct. 1 start date.

   While officials from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles report applications continue to be received, less than 1 percent of the more than 1,300 local drayage firms serving the two ports had applied by the start of this week.

   Under the truck plan, motor carriers not signed up for ports-issued access licenses by the plan's Oct. 1 start date will be barred from operating in the ports.

   The Port of Long Beach, as of Monday, had received 22 applications for access licenses from local trucking firms. Long Beach officials also reported that although their access license application form neglected to include a question asking for the number of trucks operated by the applying motor carriers, officials believed that the current applicants are all 'smaller' firms.

   Officials at the neighboring Los Angeles port reported that as of Monday the port had received access license applications from seven trucking firms representing a total of 'several hundred trucks.'

   Also lagging are local drayage driver registrations in a federal program that the two port authorities are requiring under the truck plan.

   Drivers of the nearly 17,000 trucks in the local drayage fleet are mandated under the truck plan to have an identification card issued by Department of Homeland Security under the Transportation Identification Workers Credential program. Drayage drivers, either as contractors or as employees, must be working for a motor carrier with a ports-issued access license and have the TWIC card to enter the two ports after Oct. 1.

   According to the most current DHS statistics, less than 1,400 drayage drivers, about 10 percent of those servicing the two ports, have applied for a TWIC card.

   An economic impact study commissioned by the ports last year found that 22 percent of the Southern California drayage drivers would eventually choose not to apply for a TWIC card and an additional 21 percent might not. Statistically, these two groups represent nearly 6,500 drivers from the port trucking fleet. The study's author, economist John Husing, projected that 2,500 to 3,700 drivers would be lost to the fleet due to the TWIC implementation.

   Despite the low number of applicants for the access licenses — called concession agreements by the ports — and TWIC cards, officials from both ports remain committed to the two restrictions and the Oct. 1 start date.

   'Drayage trucking companies who are serious about doing business with the port (of LA) would be prudent to continue on track to complete concessionaire applications, get their trucks registered on the system, make sure their drivers have TWIC cards and make sure they have no pre-1989 trucks in their port fleet that will be denied access on October 1,' said Geraldine Knatz, Port of Los Angeles executive director.

   'For now, Sept. 1 is the deadline to apply for a concession to have it in place by Oct. 1,' added Port of Los Angeles spokesperson Theresa Adams-Lopez. While both the access license and TWIC restrictions are being maintained for now, Adams-Lopez said Los Angeles port officials are trying to be 'flexible and work with folks,' and the possibility exists that the dates may change as the Oct. 1 date nears.

   'We're urging trucking companies to sign up for a concession,' said Port of Long Beach spokesman Art Wong. 'We're launching an outreach effort, sending out emails, circulating flyers and meeting with trucking companies to get them to sign up.'

   While the numbers of applicants may increase dramatically in the next several weeks, anecdotal evidence from local drayage firms indicates that motor carriers feel less than compelled to apply for the access licenses.

   'Everybody to a man (in the local drayage industry) is saying that there is no need to apply while the American Trucking Associations lawsuit is out there,' said Fred Johring, president of Golden State Logistics in East Rancho Dominguez.

   On July 28, ATA filed suit in a Los Angeles federal court against the access license component of the plan, claiming the two ports violated federal interstate commerce laws by mandating that motor carrier obtain an access licenses. A week later, ATA also requested that the court issue a preliminary injunction against the access license component of the two port's truck plan.

   In a meeting last week that set a Sept. 8 date for the injunction hearing, attorneys for the ports indicated to the presiding Circuit Court judge that local motor carriers would have until Sept. 29 to apply for access licenses; however, no official statement from either port has verified this.

   Johring, who has already prepared an access license application to cover his 25 trucks — but hasn't submitted it — also said the lack of guarantees from the ports to protect confidential business information required in the applications are keeping many truck firms from signing up.

   Several terminal operators in the two ports, who each asked not to be identified, added that despite the looming Oct. 1 start date of the plan, there is no infrastructure or procedure in place to monitor which drayage carrier does and does not have an access license or which drivers have TWIC cards. One terminal operator who pressed the Port of Long Beach on how this information would be collected come Oct. 1 said port officials suggested putting longshoremen at the terminal gates to manually check trucks and containers.

   The ports had planned to utilize infrastructure already in place at the terminals to automatically record truck and container information, but problems in developing software to interact with all the different types of non-interacting gate software used by the various terminals have slowed development of a solution.

   The apparent problems with he truck plan implementation are beginning to raise industry concerns about the ultimate impact on cargo movement when the restrictions take affect Oct. 1.

   'It could be the creation of the 'perfect storm' resulting in the creation of perfect circumstances for major problems,' said Peter Gatti, executive vice president of the National Industrial Transportation League. NIT League, one of the nation's oldest and largest freight transportation industry groups, represents more than 700 companies nationwide involved in the domestic and international transportation of goods.

   'Our members are just beginning to understand the potential circumstances which could lead to major truck capacity problems at the ports,' Gatti said.

   The two ports moved nearly 16 million TEUs last year, with slightly more than half being handled at some point by the local drayage fleet. In addition to the local drayage fleet handling non-discretionary cargo bound for local delivery, the local drayage fleet also handles a great deal of discretionary containers headed for rail yards near the ports. ' Keith Higginbotham

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