Plan to run LA port 24/7 to break backlog falls short

by Michael R. Blood THE ASSOCIATED PRESS & Emily Atkins

President Joe Biden announced a deal last month to establish around-the-clock operations at the Port of Los Angeles, the  largest in the U.S., to break an unprecedented container ship traffic jam blamed for driving up consumer prices.

But that hasn’t happened yet.

Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said in an online briefing Tuesday that the sprawling complex has “24/7 capability,” but a shortage of truck drivers and nighttime warehouse workers pose problems in establishing a nonstop schedule, along with getting importers to embrace expanded hours.

“It’s an effort to try to get this entire orchestra of supply chain players to get on the same calendar,” he said. Among thousands of importers, “we’ve had very few takers to date.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that going to a 24 hour-a-day schedule at the busiest port in the Western Hemisphere “is, of course, not flipping the switch. There are so many players, even just on the grounds of port.”

With container ships stranded at ports and unloaded goods waiting for trucks, the White House hoped the longer workday at the port would help loosen the bottleneck and cut into shipping delays for everything from cars to toasters to sneakers.

Delay of dwell fees

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have also delayed consideration of the “Container Dwell Fee” directed at ocean carriers until Nov. 22.

“There’s been significant improvement in clearing import containers from our docks in recent weeks,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka. “I’m grateful to the many nodes of the supply chain, from shipping lines, marine terminals, trucks and cargo owners, for their increased collaborative efforts. We will continue to closely monitor the data as we approach November 22.”

“We’re encouraged by the progress our supply chain partners have made in helping our terminals shed long-dwelling import containers. Clearly, everyone is working together to speed the movement of cargo and reduce the backlog of ships off the coast as quickly as possible,” said Port of Long Beach executive director Mario Cordero. “Postponing consideration of the fee provides more time, while keeping the focus on the results we need.”

Aging cargo decline

Since the fee was announced on Oct. 25, the twin ports have seen a decline of 26 percent, combined, in aging cargo on the docks.  Since Oct. 24, the port witnessed a 25 percent drop in the number of import containers on the docks – from 95,000 to to 71,000. During the same time, cargo sitting nine days or longer dropped by 29 percent, Seroka said.

“There’s much more work to be done on this front but great progress by our dock workers, shipping lines, truckers, marine terminal operators and railroad partners,” he said.

Under the temporary policy approved Oct. 29 by the Harbor Commissions of both ports, ocean carriers will be charged for each import container that falls into one of two categories: In the case of containers scheduled to move by truck, ocean carriers will be charged for every container dwelling nine days or more. For containers moving by rail, ocean carriers will be charged if a container has dwelled for six days or more.

The ports will charge ocean carriers in these two categories US$100 per container, increasing in $100 increments per container per day until the container leaves the terminal.

Before the pandemic-induced import surge began in mid-2020, on average, containers for local delivery remained on container terminals under four days, while containers destined for trains dwelled less than two days.

Any fees collected from dwelling cargo will be reinvested for programs designed to enhance efficiency, accelerate cargo velocity and address congestion impacts.

As of Tuesday, there were 84 container ships waiting offshore to get into the Port of Los Angeles or its neighboring sister port in Long Beach, an improvement from some recent days when the number topped 100. In normal busy times, only a handful of ships have to wait to dock.