OOIDA: New chassis rental program troubling

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 7/17/2009

A new rental intermodal chassis rental program announced by one company could very well lead to more costs and complications for owner-operators working the ports.

Container chassis have long been a controversial issue for truck drivers, who can be held responsible for brakes, brake lights and ocean carrier-owned equipment.

Maersk Line containers is rolling out a new chassis system to be used by trucks hauling containers from drayage companies, ocean carriers, marine terminals and railroads beginning Aug. 3, the company has announced. Participation in the program will be required for truckers hauling Maersk freight from any of the port area marine or rail terminals at the New York/New Jersey ports.

Under the new program, drayage drivers can use the same chassis from Direct ChassisLink Inc. for multiple trips during the same day. Specific ports will charge a fee between beginning when the container leaves and when it returns, Maersk said. When the chassis are returned, the fee will stop. Drayage companies will be billed for chassis use based on calendar days.

Maersk’s chassis pool system may be a response to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s recent rollout of a chassis regulation aimed at improving availability of safe, working chassis.

Paul Yurkovac hauled port containers daily at the Hampton Roads ports before recently beginning work full-time for the Owner Operators Coalition of Virginia.

Whether drivers can rent a Maersk chassis and haul non-Maersk containers is important, Yurkovac said.

“If you’re doing local drayage, you may have to take four loads,” Yurkovac said. “If you can’t put other ocean carrier’s containers on that chassis, you would have to rent four chassis in the same day.”

OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz trucked for nearly 30 years, and like many OOIDA members, made regular port visits as a long hauler.

Truckers can spend hours waiting for chassis to be repaired at port maintenance shops, wasting precious available hours of service time and slowing the shipping process. Rajkovacz said that issue may or may not be helped by a chassis pool.

“There are still unanswered questions regarding this policy,” Rajkovacz said. “It’s difficult to quantify true emissions reductions associated with this policy if drivers still have to go through the maze of second-guessing their safety inspections by personnel whose motives are to create work for their cronies.”

Because a new federal regulation requires chassis to be in good working order, a chassis pool has the potential to be simply another cost passed on to truckers, Rajkovacz said.

Rajkovacz said some trucking companies will back-bill cargo owners with chassis fees, but the new system could become simply another chargeback owner-operators will have to pay.

“Much of the trucking industry is spineless when it comes to protecting their supposed number one asset – the driver – from unconscionable business practices,” Rajkovacz said. “This policy raises the specter of significant cost shifting to owner-operators leased to drayage companies to underwrite daily rental fees. From most of the operating leases I’ve reviewed from this industry, few are even minimally compliant with federal regulations. And this will likely be another charge-back item that is not disclosed or contracted.”

The shipping process could become more efficient by taking truckers out of the loop and billing beneficial cargo owners directly, he said.

“Instead, this practice will likely lead to the same type of illegal abuses that proliferate in the wholesale grocery business of forcing truckers to pay for delivering their freight,” Rajkovacz said.

Tension between shipping players like Maersk and other parties doesn’t help truckers who only want to haul freight in and out of the ports.

Major ocean carriers like Maersk who have proposed changes in the process have drawn opposition from labor organizations. An executive of the International Longshoreman’s Association recently told the Journal of Commerce that his union would fight Maersk’s chassis pool program rather than risk losing jobs because of potential changes to chassis maintenance.

“The business model employed in port drayage in this country has come under serious assault from organized labor,” Rajkovacz said. “This Maersk policy will unwittingly give ammunition to their adversaries because it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ owner-operators begin to pay the price for this policy.”

For more information on Maersk’s new program, visit www.chassislink.com.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer


Copyright © OOIDA