SPECIAL REPORT: L.A. OKs port plan; long-haulers reassured

| 3/20/2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008 – The Los Angeles Harbor Commission has approved its long-awaited concessionaire program aimed at retiring older trucks and improving labor issues in the 16,000-driver port community.

“It’s a done deal,” OOIDA’s Joe Rajkovacz said during a phone interview after the meeting Thursday, March 20, while hundreds of Teamsters supporters rallied in the background awaiting Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa then addressed a group of union leaders, concessionaire supporters and harbor commissioners following the commission meeting.

“We want to transform our port from a third-world business model and flip the logic so that billion-dollar companies must take their responsibility,” Villaraigosa said.

The concessionaire plan limits port access to trucks that meet all four of these criteria:

  • Pay a $2,500 fee every five years and $100 per truck each year.
  • Participate in the “virtual container yard system.”
  • Post placards on trucks with a 1-800 number so citizens can report emissions or safety concerns.
  • Are licensed motor carriers.

One item the harbor commission didn’t approve was a day-pass type of system to allow the thousands of long-haul drivers to make occasional container deliveries and pick-ups. The Boston Consulting Group suggested a day-pass system to limit port disruptions in its port-commissioned economic evaluation of the clean truck program.

Rajkovacz, the Association’s regulatory affairs specialist, spoke by phone and met with port officials several times in recent months to coach them on the mechanics of long-haul trucking.

On Thursday, Rajkovacz delivered a three-minute address to the L.A. port’s Harbor Commission. The short speech outlined OOIDA’s key concern: Long-haul truckers who already meet California and U.S. EPA emission standards are being grouped with local drayage drivers who often drive older, more polluting trucks.

Rajkovacz said his speech was followed by a round of applause. He said Geraldine Knatz, the port’s executive director, assured him that a day-pass system for long-haulers would be implemented before the concessionaire plans were finalized.

“That’s huge,” Rajkovacz said, adding that Los Angeles’ plan is likely to be a blueprint for several major ports throughout the U.S. that are dealing with environmental and labor issues.

“This is ground zero,” Rajkovacz said. “Whatever they do here is going to roll out elsewhere.”

From the dock on the bay
Anchored ships formed the backdrop for a press conference-ready podium by 7 a.m., several hours before the port’s Harbor Commission was scheduled to consider the concessionaire program.

The Port of Long Beach approved its own truck concessionaire program on Feb. 19. Long Beach will allow owner-operators port entry, provided they pay hundreds of dollars, slap RFID tags on their trucks, submit maintenance records, and meet a laundry list of other requirements.

The twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are expected to hand out $2.2 billion to replace or retrofit drayage trucks through a lease-purchase program, although Los Angeles will also offer up-front grants for truck purchases or a grant to retrofit a truck to meet 2007 standards.

Each port has approved an emission standard requiring all trucks to meet 2007 engine standards by the year 2012. The California Air Resources Board passed its own port regulation requiring all diesel trucks to meet 2007 emission standards by Dec. 2013.

Rajkovacz’s comments to harbor commissioners touched on port proposals from Long Beach and Los Angeles each, repeating OOIDA’s belief that each port’s proposal unnecessarily groups all truckers as “drayage drivers.”

“The port does face significant environmental challenges, and the current drayage economic system is broke,” Rajkovacz said. “Add to that the implementation of the Department of Homeland Security’s TWIC program and the inability of at least a quarter of the current driver pool to work after TWIC is implemented, and you have the perfect storm capable of crippling Southern California’s economy.”

Day passes or a similar system to allow access for long haulers could do much to change those concerns, Rajkovacz said.

“Of course, the devil now is going to be in the details,” he said.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer