Drayage haulers caught between cargo slowdown, port cutbacks

| 7/30/2009

Paul Yurkovac once spent much of his day as a port trucker dealing with long lines waiting for chassis checkout, maintenance and inspection before hauling cargo containers to distribution centers.

As public relations director for the Owner Operators Coalition of Virginia, the OOIDA member works with many drivers at the Ports at Hampton Roads who are dealing with the same inefficiencies, only now with less time to make port calls.

As the U.S. and global recession has continued and volumes have dropped at some ports by more than 30 percent, port and terminal operators’ hours of operations and staffing have been cut to the bone – delaying port truckers who see their idling times up and their paychecks down.

“It really stinks, because with the economic climate being the way it is, on top of all the other hassles you have to go through, you’re doing it for a cheaper price now,” Yurkovac said.

Major shipping lines have reduced shiploads, as well, only adding to the problem, he said.

“All of this has a trickle-down effect on what happens to the truck driver when he or she enters those terminals,” Yurkovac said.

At the Ports at Hampton Roads, APM Terminals are starting each workday later, are stopping earlier, and are now shutting down for lunch, Yurkovac said. At the Port of New Orleans, the Times-Picayune recently reported, terminal operator Ports America has delayed its opening from 7 a.m. until noon for two days each week.

“If you have available work, that’s costing you the ability to do work,” Yurkovac said. “Once you get onto the terminal, it’s taking you more time because of reduced operations at the terminal. Combined with ship lines that have demanded rate cuts to stay afloat, and trucking companies underbidding each other to get cargo – it’s less work at a cheaper rate.

“It’s not good.”

Joe Rajkovacz has watched major ports – such as the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Seattle, Oakland and New Jersey – launch multibillion-dollar environmental programs that aim to replace older trucks and cut idling.

Any potential gains by those environmental programs, he said, are easily negated by poor efficiencies.

“These guys are having to wait in line and idle. And therefore you have this exacerbation of environmental problems from excessive idling – which nobody seems to give a damn about now, even though that’s what launched so many port programs in recent years,” said Rajkovacz, OOIDA regulatory affairs specialist.

“If you want owner operators to be in the marketplace and want them to be able to afford newer equipment on their own, you don’t complicate their business by putting them in impossible situations. Let’s talk about efficient operations, let’s talk about reducing the dwell time on the port, and let’s not complicate their lives. Let’s make it easier.

“You may save a dollar today by cutting hours and workers, but you really pay in the long run,” Rajkovacz said. “It’s penny wise and pound foolish.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer