SoCal truck congestion meeting yields progress
A meeting last week between Southern California marine terminal operators, shippers and trucking companies was a good first step toward resolving endemic truck congestion outside container terminals in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
That's according to Bruce Wargo, the head of PierPass, an administrative entity set up by terminal operators in the two ports to address issues such as congestion, security and air quality.
'The meeting was frank and open,' Wargo told American Shipper Tuesday. 'We spent a lot of time talking about the causes of truck congestion and why they show up in these waves throughout the day. Everyone understands each other's perspectives better.'
As American Shipper reported July 23, truck congestion has been particularly bad at specific times throughout the day ' with bunching occurring primarily at 7 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. The worst bunching occurs at 6 p.m. as truckers try to avoid the PierPass fee, which is assessed on containers moving during daytime, weekday hours.
Wargo said the working group reached a consensus on some of the causes of the congestion, but warned that finding a solution won't be easy.
Specifically, the group honed in on a few complexities that keep trucks from arriving at terminals in a more staggered way throughout the day:
' Regulation on truckers' hours of service.
' Effect of truckers being owner-operators versus employee drivers.
' Push by shippers to avoid the daytime traffic mitigation fee.
' Effect on warehouse and distribution center operations.
'Getting people to change will be difficult,' he said. 'If it was easy, it would have already been done.'
Among the ideas mooted by terminal operators is a move to appointment systems, which three terminals in Long Beach and Los Angeles already operate. Those terminals refuse to allow trucks without an appointment to enter terminal gates in order to better organize management of resources in the terminal.
'This is a large port complex where in the past there's traditionally been free and open access,' Wargo said. 'That lack of control of flow has led to this situation where there is congestion. Obviously, there's lots of concern about how an appointment system would mitigate that waiting. Certain terminal operators are moving toward appointments, aside from this congestion.'
Indeed PierPass said in a statement Tuesday that 'several (terminal operators) will roll out appointment systems in late summer and early fall in order to both prepare for seasonal volumes and to more evenly spread out container moves over the full hours of operation.'
But appointment systems alone won't solve the problem. Wargo admitted in a July conversation with American Shipper that the three terminals with appointment systems in place — the Hanjin-affiliated Total Terminals International in Long Beach, and the Yang Ming-affiliated West Basin Container Terminal and Evergreen-affiliated STS terminal in Los Angeles — were also seeing congestion outside gates.
Rather it will take a holistic approach, from shippers to carriers to trucking companies, to space truck arrivals better.
PierPass said that seven of the 13 terminal operators have returned to five OffPeak shifts after cutting back on nighttime and weekend shifts in 2009 due to plunging container volume through Los Angeles and Long Beach.
PierPass also said 10 terminals have reinstated continuous operations through the lunch hour and expanded gate hours by adding back flex gates during periods of peak congestion. Terminal operators have increased labor levels by 37 percent since the beginning of the year.
In the end, Wargo said, it's about better utilization of expensive assets — from new, cleaner $100,000 rigs that owner-operators must finance through more runs per week, to container terminals that see periods of feverish activity followed by quiet, inactive periods.
'There is a need to encourage trucks to come to terminals at 'in-between periods' so everyone gets better utilization of their assets,' he said.
The working group has planned another meeting at the end of August. ' Eric Johnson