An ‘idle’ threat
State officials say port terminals will face fines if they make trucks wait — and idle— in California

Truckers used to long waits at California ports may be waiting less thanks to a law that went into effect July 1.

Under the new anti-idling law, port terminal operators in the state will be fined every time they make a trucker wait — and idle — more than 30 minutes.

Truckers would not pay fines under the law.

The law was passed last year and signed by the governor in September 2002. It also would fine terminal operators who divert trucks to freeways or remote staging areas to avoid the law. And it would prohibit passing the cost of fines to truck owners and operators, according to the General Assembly’s Web site.

Terminal operators could be fined $250 for every truck in violation. Since some terminals handle roughly 2,000 gate moves each day, and many truckers have historically waited an hour or even longer to pick up loads, those fines could add up quickly for slow-moving terminals.

Josh Tucker, who works for bill sponsor Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, said two agencies would enforce the new regulations.

At the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, based in Diamond Bar, CA, is enforcing the rules, while the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, based in the San Francisco area, is handling them at the Oakland port. The law applies only to ports handling 100,000 or more containers a year.

Both districts have held meetings of affected groups and will conduct random compliance checks, he said.

The idling rules, like all California laws, would normally take effect Jan. 1. However, Tucker said the state delayed fines till July 1 to allow terminal operators to install and perfect appointment systems to manage truck traffic.

To comply with the law, the operators were allowed to either create appointment systems or to remain open 70 hours a week. Most, according to Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast district, chose to implement an appointment system.

“We realized any terminal trying to put together an appointment or scheduling system was going to take a little bit of time,” Tucker said. “As far as I know, every terminal notified their district that they would be trying some sort of scheduling or appointment system.”

Truckers can make an appointment in two ways, Atwood said. They can simply call terminals, or they can schedule an appointment over the Internet at Truckers have to register to use the site, but there is no charge.

The importance of making appointments
For the law to work, it is vital for truckers who pickup and deliver at the facilities to make appointments.

Atwood said if truckers don’t make appointments, terminal operators would be exempt from the 30-minute idling limit — and from any possible fine.

“There’s no requirement for truckers to use the appointment system,” Atwood said. “And if they do not use the appointment system, they (terminal operators) are exempt from the 30-minute requirement.”

Whether all truckers at the ports are aware of that requirement is unknown. Atwood said he was uncertain whether the state conducted meetings with individual truckers, but he did say the California Trucking Association, which helped create the law, was given the task of contacting truckers about it.

In addition, the South Coast district is preparing a brochure on the new regulations that will be distributed to “all interested parties.” That brochure will be made available to truckers through the California Trucking Association.

“My impression ... is that pretty much all the truckers are well aware of this system,” he said.

A bonus for truckers
Atwood said the district had not yet issued any citations for violations of the law. But if any terminals are fined, truckers could see some of that money go into their pockets.

Lowenthal’s office said in a statement the law would create a new program, the California Port Community Grants, that would convert terminal fines into grants for truckdrivers to help replace and retrofit trucks that produce the worst emissions.

Meanwhile, truckers who are forced to wait and idle more than 30 minutes can report offenses. In Southern California, truckers can call the South Coast Air Quality Management District at 1-800-CUT-SMOG (1-800-288-7664).

—by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at