Long Beach Port still has major container backlogs from last year © APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images.
Long Beach Port still has major container backlogs from last year © APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images.

Should major container ports be forced to operate 24/7?

16 February 2022

A dispute is brewing between Long Beach Port in California, US, and the PierPass terminal operator group over how to alleviate long-term bottlenecks.

According to reports in the Load Star, PierPass – a not-for-profit company created under the West Coast Marine Terminal Operator Agreement (WCMTOA) – has refused to extend operations to a 24/7 working model despite the ongoing pressure of container backlogs and ship queues caused by the pandemic.

PierPass comprises 12 container terminal operators at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The group was formed to address issues such as congestion, air quality and security.

A PierPass spokesperson said: “The WCMTOA has been providing statistics to the US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) about gate activity and terminal operations on a weekly basis. 

“Those statistics did not support the requested changes attempted to incentivise off-peak traffic through pricing. Therefore, the WCMTOA will return to the OffPeak programme, also known as 2.0.”

PierPass’s OffPeak programme was first launched in 2005 as a measure to reduce severe cargo-related congestion on streets and highways around the ports, establishing regular night and Saturday work shifts to handle trucks delivering and picking up containers at the terminals in the two adjacent ports.

But according to Long Beach Port executive director Mario Cordero, there is a need for the port, truckers and warehouse operators to switch to 24/7 working hours.

Cordero said: “We will continue to advocate for transformational change – for 24/7 operations. Not just here, but throughout the supply chain.

“There are 168 hours in a week. For the most part, our terminals are open less than half those hours. Without expanding our terminals or building new facilities, we could handle still more cargo by utilising more of those hours. 

"We’d also need truckers and warehouses to go 24/7. With the Biden Administration’s help, the framework for 24/7 supply chain operations has been established.”

Last Friday, Federal Maritime Commission chairman Daniel Maffei said he would ask for a meeting of the full commission “as soon as practicable” to consider whether the agency should investigate PierPass.

He said: “The current congestion at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach remains a threat to the nation’s economic vitality and a serious problem for thousands of importers and exporters. 

“It can only be solved through positive collective action, and many stakeholders at the nation’s biggest port complex have made contributions, sometimes being willing to sacrifice for the greater good. PierPass seems to be an exception.”

According to the PierPass website, “OffPeak has taken more than 51m truck trips out of daytime southern California traffic and diverted them to less congested nights and weekends.”

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