Maersk says chassis pool will take cooperation to work

| 8/14/2009

The world’s largest ship operator says the idea for its new chassis pool system requires cooperation between ocean carriers, ports and truck drivers to work, a company official recently told Land Line. Some OOIDA members with port experience say the system seems like more of the same.

Maersk rolled out a new chassis system on Aug. 3 for trucks hauling containers from drayage companies, ocean carriers, marine terminals and railroads.

Participation in the program is required for truckers hauling Maersk containers from any of the port area marine or rail terminals at the New York/New Jersey ports. Maersk also intends to roll this program out nationally.

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 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.

Andy Chinigo, vice president of special projects and marketing for Maersk’s Direct Chassis Link, said the idea for a chassis pool to be shared among truckers, shippers and ports has been hatching for years.

“We’ve been talking about this for over 30 years, saying it’s the right thing to do,” Chinigo said. “But there’s always some reason not to do it.”

Maersk leaders discussed ways of improving environmental efficiency and cutting costs and infrastructure wear. They decided a chassis pool system would be the solution, Chinigo said, though he admitted the company knows it is “taking a chance.”

“We have to get out of this thinking that says ‘there is always a reason not to do it,” Chinigo said. “There’s a good reason to do it, so why shouldn’t we?”

Chinigo said Maersk is allowing truckers who rent the chassis and pay the $11-per-day fee to use the chassis to haul shipping containers from any line. Some shippers may discourage or disallow use of their containers to be shipped on a Maersk chassis, but Chinigo said he hopes Maersk’s plan will encourage cooperation and improve efficiencies.

“The goal is that any chassis in any location could be used for any line at any time for anything,” Chinigo said. “That’s what we’re trying to drive the industry toward.”

Maersk told Land Line that payments for chassis rentals will usually be worked out between the trucker and the shipping customer, and said a truck driver making four port trips could decide to charge an $11 surcharge for each trip, or pro-rate the $11 chassis rental fee if they use a single chassis for the entire day.

Some have argued that Maersk is moving to the chassis pool model to shift maintenance costs as FMCSA begins enforcing a new federal rule on chassis roadability.

Chinigo said that’s not true.

“We’re actually supporting the draymen in that scenario, not the ocean carriers,” Chinigo said. “We are keeping all the maintenance and repair, roadability and road service exactly as it is today under Maersk. Maintenance and repair will still be done at the marine terminals exactly as it is done today.”

Terms of the ChassisLink Interchange Agreement, however, seem to be at odds with the new intermodal chassis rule from FMCSA. By signing the agreement, it appears a motor carrier assumes complete responsibility for the roadability of the chassis and specifies that the chassis is free from defects. The agreement also places responsibility for fines and other maintenance costs on the motor carrier while the chassis is in use.

“The question is: Under whose US DOT number will negative chassis data from roadside inspections be recorded?” said Joe Rajkovacz, regulatory affairs specialist with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “The rulemaking is clear that this data is to be reflected under the intermodal equipment provider’s US DOT number, but the language in this agreement appears to be usable as a defense in challenging negative reports. The reality faced by truckers is that they cannot find hidden equipment defects – yet the agreement holds them responsible for something not contained in the regulation.”

Experienced port drivers say the system will improve little for truckers.

Chassis rental fees may be billed to beneficial cargo owners, if reputable brokers and motor carriers work well with truckers, said Rajkovacz, who made port drops while working as a long-haul trucker for nearly 30 years.

If not, however, he thinks the new system could wind up being just another charge-back item that drivers are stuck.

“Many small-business carriers deal with intermediaries and, since I’m a betting man I’ll bet these guys are going to get skinned,” said Rajkovacz. “Very little in this business is on the up and up when it comes to treatment of small businesses and owner-operators. This whole policy will be used as a form of illicit profiting by middlemen claiming they’re not getting cost recovery from the beneficial cargo owner.”

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

Yurkovac said it’s unrealistic to think that port drivers can make four trips using the same chassis, given that live loads and unloads take two hours per load and lines to get in and out of ports typically take one hour per load.

Because most port haulers make area or regional drop and hooks at warehouses and distribution centers, they’re not going to use the same chassis all day, Yurkovac said.

“Unless they’re dealing with a customer that’s right outside the gate and they have the ability to unload the chassis within 10 minutes, using the same chassis four times a day is preposterous,” Yurkovac said.

Yurkovac said that both Maersk and small-business truckers will make decisions to benefit their own companies.

“At the end of the day, Maersk is making a business decision for them which reduces liability, reduces expense and makes their operations profitable,” Yurkovac said. “But they’re trying to sell this to the market by quoting extremely flimsy examples of how this isn’t bad for the trucker. Well, it is bad for the trucker.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer