Truckers to Seek HOS Waiver to Ease Calif. Port Congestion

Southern California port truckers, crippled by extensive delays, intend to seek the first-ever federal hours-of-service rule waiver for the sector in a bid to free up clogged cargo at the two largest U.S. ports.

“The situation is dire right now,” said Mike Johnson, president of the Harbor Trucking Association and operations manager for Port Logistics Group. He told Transport Topics the waiver from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is required because truckers need more time to move delayed cargo.

Johnson explained that cargo is unloaded faster from ships at Los Angeles and neighboring Long Beach than it can be moved through terminals. Chassis shortages, not enough dockworkers and cargo surges from larger vessels add to congestion. Some shippers and brokers have advised of delays of at least 10 days.

“There is a most compelling waiver case that can be made in the Southern California region,” said Curtis Whalen, executive director of American Trucking Associations’ Intermodal Motor Carrier Conference. He said the waiver request covering 90 days could be filed within two weeks.

Whalen stressed that congestion-plagued port truckers are similar to others who have been granted waivers.

Because of the extensive waiting time at port gates and inside the terminals, those truckers today are in a similar situation to others who have been granted FMCSA waivers, he said. In those cases, waivers were granted for extended workdays, such as 16 hours on duty on a temporary basis to respond to crisis situations.

Whalen compared port truckers with a power company or agricultural workers who also don’t spend much of their work time driving.

“If [port truckers] are sitting on their butts in a waiting line, they aren’t facing the same pressure as they would if they’re driving,” said Whalen.

Whalen said similar waivers may be needed at the New York-New Jersey and Virginia ports, where steps to mitigate delays such as creating a single portwide pool are being taken.

Johnson expressed his frustration this way:

“If you can order a pizza across the United States and expect to have it prepared, cooked and shipped

to your door in 30 minutes [or less], the international shipping community should be able to expect the multibillion-dollar marine terminal industry to be able to service a drayage truck in one hour or less.”

The plea for relief, which hadn’t been filed as of press time, is coming as West Coast port contract negotiations may be beginning to unravel. On the positive side, however, companies that lease chassis have agreed to create a regionwide chassis pool by Feb. 1.

Last week, management negotiators from the Pacific Maritime Association accused the International Longshore & Warehouse Union of deliberate slowdowns at Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, which together handle about 16% of West Coast cargo.

In the first public scrap since talks began six months ago, management said the union violated a promise not to disrupt normal operations. The union denied the charge.

“The latest situation with the ILWU-PMA is not good,” said  Jonathan Gold, a vice president at the National Retail Federation. “Our hope is that it does not lead to a breakdown in the overall negotiations, which could impact the entire West Coast, not just Los Angeles-Long Beach. We want to avoid a repeat of the 2002 lockout.”

Meanwhile, officials from Trac Intermodal, as well as competitors Flexi-Van Leasing and Direct ChassisLink, met with Los Angeles port leaders late last month and agreed to form a single pool including 90% of chassis, Phillip Sanfield, a Port of Los Angeles spokesman, told TT. It would replace four smaller pools when details of the pool’s operation are finished.

Chassis shortages today are triggered by imbalances of equipment, with too much from one pool at a terminal and not enough at another one.

The question is whether to create a so-called “market pool” or a “pool of pools,” said Keith Lovetro, CEO of chassis lessor Trac Intermodal.

The difference between the two, Lovetro explained, is in the structure and management oversight.

The pools also would include equipment from Direct ChassisLink, Flexi-Van and Stevedoring Services of America.

“Hopefully, this is a significant step forward to improve turn times and clear congestion at the gates,” Sanfield said.

“The situation in Los Angeles and Long Beach is having a global impact on our world trade partners.” Johnson said. “Ignoring the truck-related issues only creates an illusion that the supply chain is working correctly.”Gold agreed.

“The congestion and other disruptions might still have an impact on some retailers,” he said. “This could impact last-minute items and some replenishment shipments. Most shippers are continuing to look for contingencies.”

Whalen said delays have hurt port drivers’ earnings that are based on number of trips made. He also said drayage carriers will be seeking support from other carrier groups, as well as the Federal Maritime Commission.


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