Truckers say TWIC hangover staggers traffic at several ports

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 12/2/2008

Every time Joe Meyers pulled into the Port of Savannah Monday he noticed several trucks pulled over. Some drivers spoke to port police while others waited for escorts into secure areas.

Meyers, an OOIDA member from Savannah, GA, made four trips in and out of the Port of Savannah on Monday, Dec. 1. The Port of Savannah was one of nine port regions where the Transportation Worker Identification Credential requirement was enforced for the first time Monday.

Meyers obtained his TWIC card before the deadline, allowing him to pull reefer loads with his 2004 Kenworth W900 all day Monday and for two trips early Tuesday morning.

Meyers said the TWIC rule appeared to have slowed business at the port.

“I went in there Friday (Nov. 28), and it was off the hook in there. It looked like New York City it was so busy,” Meyers told Land Line Magazine. “But it was dead Monday. It was a ghost town.”

The TWIC program eventually will require more than 1.5 million port employees, longshoremen, mariners, truckers and others who require unescorted access to secure areas of ports to have background checks before being issued cards with their biometric data and residency documentation.

Nationally, TWIC cards will be required for truckers and other port workers who need unescorted access into secure areas of the ports by April 15, 2009, although most ports are implementing earlier mandatory TWIC enforcement.

Meyers reported no problems getting in and out of the port himself.

“I’m not knocking the TWIC card,” he said. “It’s just that they’re giving you the impression that you’re entering federal lockdown, saying, ‘We want to see your card.’ It’s an intimidation thing.”

While the TWIC presented new issues for drivers to deal with, Meyers said historic port problems provided their own annoying nostalgia.

“It took me over two hours to get a tire changed and a tail light replaced on the same chassis today,” he said.

Ironically, the recent economic recession and a subsequent drop in container volume at ports likely saved additional headaches for many port and government officials, said Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA’s regulatory affairs specialist.

“The volume is so down at these ports, they have avoided a perfect storm of TWIC delays being combined with the mandatory enforcement,” Rajkovacz said. “That’s probably one reason why this hasn’t totally blown up in their faces. They got lucky.”

OOIDA fielded a number of phone calls from truck drivers who noticed problems with TWIC at ports on Monday and Tuesday.

Rajkovacz, a longtime truck driver and CDL-holder, obtained a TWIC card this year but was recently denied access on a commercial flight because Transportation Security Administration employees didn’t recognize the TSA-administered TWIC card.

“Untrained TSA employees didn’t recognize their own credential,” Rajkovacz said. “Just because you have a TWIC card doesn’t mean you won’t be denied anything.”

More than 4,000 Port of Savannah truck drivers had enrolled in TWIC by Nov. 26.

In addition to the ports in the Port of Savannah region, Monday was the first day truckers were required to have TWIC cards for unescorted access into secure areas at port regions in Charleston, SC; Jacksonville, FL; Long Island Sound, NY; Buffalo, NY; Duluth, MN; and Detroit, Lake Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, MI.

As of Nov. 26, nearly half of the estimated 1.5 million workers who will need TWIC cards had pre-enrolled. Cards had been activated for about 445,000 workers, nearly a fourth of the total expected enrollment by April.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

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