The Port of Oakland said today it is working on a four-step plan to speed the flow of containerized traffic through its five terminals, and to cut the amount of time truckers spend waiting for boxes.
Under the program, all four steps will be implemented or pilot-tested within the next two months, the port said. One is a "gray" chassis fleet that allows truckers to pick up and drop off equipment at any terminal. Oakland will also begin regular Saturday operations to reduce weekday crowding inside terminals; establish locations outside terminals where cargo can be picked up and dropped off after hours, and electronically monitor trucker waiting times at terminal gates.
The chassis pool concept should minimize the periodic chassis shortages that delay cargo deliveries at Oakland, the port said; a similar program began last month at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, the nation's busiest port complex. Regular Saturday gate operations would spread cargo pickup and delivery at Oakland over an extra day each week, relieving stress on terminal operations, officials said. Offsite locations would enable truckers to transact business without entering terminals, while electronic monitoring would provide drivers with real-time wait times so they could avoid peak periods of activity. Congestion at Oakland, the country's fifth-busiest containerport, has forced harbor truckers in some instances to wait more than two hours to pick up boxes, port officials report.
Chris Lytle, executive director of the Port of Oakland, said the initiative is aimed at accelerating cargo movements for importers and exporters, many of whom are still licking their wounds following a months-long impasse between West Coast waterfront labor and management that caused significant delays along the coast. "Our customers don't want to wait for their cargo when it comes off the ship," Lytle said in a statement. "We hear them and we understand their urgency, so we're acting on it." In the past few weeks, a surplus of cargo, due largely to vessels that arrived at Oakland off schedule and in clusters after first being delayed at congested southern California ports due to the labor unrest, has slowed deliveries at Oakland to some importers, officials said. All inbound services from Asia first call at southern California and then sail to Oakland. However, vessel backlogs at Los Angeles and Long Beach caused three- to four-week delays in leaving the ports en route to Oakland; in some cases, vessel operators offloaded in southern California and returned to Asia, bypassing Oakland altogether. Less than two months after the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), representing ship management, agreed to a tentative five-year collective-bargaining agreement, Oakland has cleared out the vessel backlog that occurred as alleged work slowdowns by labor dramatically reduced loading and offloading productivity. Los Angeles had three ships left unloaded as of today, according to Phillip Sanfield, a port spokesman. Long Beach has two vessels left to unload, Kathleen Charchenko, assistant marketing manager, business development at the Port of Long Beach, said yesterday at the NASSTRAC annual shippers conference and expo in Orlando. It is expected that all coastwide backlogs will be cleared by the end of April.
The labor-management impasse, while clearly disruptive, only amplified existing congestion issues that have plagued several of the large West Coast ports. The unrest also triggered a diversion of freight to East and Gulf Coast ports. Some of those cargoes are likely gone for good. About 10 percent of cargoes diverted from Long Beach during the impasse will not return, Charchenko said.