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July 07, 2014

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GOVERNMENT WATCH 18 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE JULY 7.2014 By Mark Szakonyi HARBOR TRUCKING LEADERS in June asked the Federal Maritime Commission to mediate a discussion between terminal operators and drayage drivers in an effort to ease congestion at U.S. ports. The harbor trucking industry wants the FMC to review the efficacy of tariff filings that cover drivers' excessive wait times and to encourage terminals to use radio-fre- quency identification and other technology to provide data to give truckers better infor- mation on gate congestion. Curtis Whalen, executive director of the American Trucking Associations' Intermodal Council, also urged the FMC to use its posi- tion as ocean transportation's U.S. regulator to ensure truckers aren't hurt by changes in chassis supply and deployment models. The FMC also should review terminals' handling of "free time" after which demur- rage is charged, truckers said. Drivers often must scramble to pick up loads before free time expires, and are dinged with fines if they can't react fast enough. The deployment of massive vessels by major shipping alliances only intensifies the rush, Whalen said. Even congestion-easing programs that were considered progressive five or 10 years ago need work to adapt to today's new set of problems. For example, PierPass, an effort designed to encourage shippers to move their cargo during weeknights and Saturday to alleviate congestion at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, needs to be restruc- tured, said Alex Cherin, executive director of the Harbor Trucking Association. Terminal operators involved in the PierPass program need to add a third shift, because too much traffic has moved to eve- ning hours, Cherin said. He and several shippers also have complained about random gate closures. "We need to move toward a 24-hours, seven-days-a-week operation," Cherin said. "If we don't (fix PierPass), we will see a diversion of cargo and further con- traction in the trucking industry." The FMC is looking into the matter fol- lowing complaints, FMC Chairman Mario Cordero told the JOC. He said a major Pier- Pass user raised a "legitimate question" with him about why fees should rise when gate hours were being reduced — in essence reiterating Cherin's complaint about random closures. Cordero did note that there might be reasons for fewer gate hours. The FMC is the grantee of the West Coast Terminal Operators Agreement that allows the marine terminal operators to run the program. If the FMC deems the program is hitting stakeholders with unreasonable costs, a reduction in services or both, the agency will dissolve the operating agreement. Increased congestion reduces drivers' productivity, and chassis that are in short supply or in disrepair hurts their federal safety scores, pushing many operators out of the market, Whalen said. The New York-New Jersey port complex has seen its driver work- force shrink 20 percent since last year, he said. "It raises sufficient concern of whether there will be sufficient drivers to move the goods," Whalen said. The FMC is considering holding hear- ings or study sessions on the broader issue of terminal congestion on the East and West coasts, Cordero said. The agency, he added, is still looking into what type of approach it will take and expects something specific to be worked out in the coming weeks. JOC Contact Mark Szakonyi at and follow him on Twitter:@szakonyi_joc. FACILITATING PORT PRODUCTIVITY? Harbor truckers want the FMC to join the discussion about how to ease congestion at U.S. ports and Congress of Industrial Organization, the nation's largest trade union, agrees with the Chamber of Commerce that the bank must survive further enhances the oddity. Although it's nice to think the global busi- ness world would operate on a level-playing field without government-backed financ- ing, the reality is that European and Asian competitors won't give up their own lend- ing institutions in the pursuit of free-market ideals, Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue said. Besides, many of the small and medium-sized U.S. exporters wouldn't be able to find financing, much less at the rates offered by the Ex-Im Bank, from private institutions, Timmons said. Donohue said he's confident the House would pass a reauthorization bill if the legis- lation got to the floor. But with the chamber controlled by Republicans, that's not an easy feat. House Speaker Rep. John Boehner hasn't publicly said where he stands on reau- thorizing the bank. While the Ohio Republican considers his stance, the pressure is on proponents and exporters dependent on the bank to make their case to legislators in the coming months, particularly in August when they return home for the congressional recess. Some of those same Republican House members also will be weighing whether they want to risk the ire of Tea Party sup - port, especially ahead of the midterm elections in November. For legislators reluctant to make a hard decision, giving the bank a short-term extension until a new Congress returns isn't much of an option. Concerns that the U.S. won't reauthorize the bank already have cost exporters business, and an extension wouldn't give buyers the needed certainty, either, Timmons said. Steve Wilburn, CEO of Newport Beach, California-based energy company FirmGreen told Congress in April that uncertainty over the bank's fate resulted in the alternative- energy company losing a $57 million contract to a South Korean competitor. JOC Contact Mark Szakonyi at and follow him on Twitter: @szakonyi_joc.

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