We are a full service port, says Don Snyder, director of trade relations at the Port of Long Beach. “We have liquid bulk and that's the one bright spot, everyone is still consuming a lot of oil.” And where oil products come in, petroleum coke goes back out, he points out. “But automobiles and dry bulk have really slowed down quite a bit.” Container business at the port really slid, says Snyder. In December 2008, “we were down 25% compared to the previous December and January is much the same, so it's a real indication of the marketplace.” The good news for importers and exporters using the port is there is no congestion.
Snyder and his co-panelists at a meeting of the International Warehouse Logistics Association annual conference indicated how quickly things had changed. In October when the port panel was set, the topic was congestion.
We do have seven very large container terminals that can handle the largest and most economical ships,” Snyder pointed out. “The bigger the ship, the better the per unit cost. We have plenty of berths, there's never congestion. We had congestion in 2002 and 2004. In this current market I don't think that's the issue.”
Snyder added, “A big feature for Southern California is that we may not have the ultimate in transit time either on water or on land, but there are ships basically coming to and from most destinations almost every day. There are trains departing for almost every destination to and from almost every day.”
A controversial program to improve air quality may have inflated perceptions of fees at the port, according to Snyder. “We have a project in place to bring all the trucks up to the 2007 engine standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” he says. There are about 16,000 public dray trucks in Southern California, Snyder notes, and brining them to the EPA standard will bring the truck emissions down by 80%.
”We're charging a fee for the non-2007 trucks. And there are already about 3,000 to 3,500 [compliant] trucks which the local trucking companies have purchased that are exempt from the fee.”
Competitive ports are saying Southern California ports have a plethora of fees, Snyder points out. He counters with an example of “perception versus what we see as real.” Half the containers moving through the Port of Long Beach get on a railroad bound for destinations east of the Rocky Mountains, Snyder points out. “It was claimed that we had fees of $148.67 per twenty-foot-equivalent unit (TEU) or about $300 for a 40 ft. container. But if you're moving via train, the clean truck fee doesn't apply. If you're moving on-dock or with one of the exempt trucks, we don't have an infrastructure fee at this point, it looks like that will most likely be postponed.”
PierPass, which is designed to shift container moves from going on Monday through Friday during the day to the nights and weekends, now accounts for about 40% of Long Beach container traffic. “Stuff going onto the rail is exempt. Even the local cargo if it goes at night and weekends doesn't pay a fee,” clarifies Snyder. “The only fee we have is the Alameda Corridor fee for rail cargo. That's $20 per TEU.” Snyder admits there are proposed fees, some national, some regional. “But I like to try and set the story straight as much as I can,” he concluded.