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Aug.8, 2016

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TRADING PLACES 70 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE DATE.2016 Mark Szakonyi A DISSERVICE TO SHIPPERS THE FIERCE RESISTANCE to a U.S. s h ip p e r - s up p o r t e d e f f o r t t o determine how best to monitor port productivity ref lects some - what just if ied fea rs t hat such metrics could be used unfairly in longshore negotiations and to draw unreasonable comparisons between ports. But the intensity of the push-back displayed at a mid- July meeting by some of the very stakeholders tasked by Congress to ma ke recom mendat ions on how to monitor port productivity also smacks of an industry afraid to turn a critical eye on itself, and happy to keep finger-pointing. That's an insult to shippers that have little, if any, control over whether labor, terminals and rail - roads come together to curb port congestion. The showdown between U.S. West Coast longshoremen and waterfront employers that nearly crippled ports from Long Beach to Seattle is over. The threat of conges- tion still looms, however, to ports that are crucial to keeping the U.S. economy — and to a lesser extent, the broader global economy — run- ning. The push-back by members of the Port Performance Freight Statis- tics Working Group also flies in the face where the rest of the business world is heading: Creating metrics out of data to track performance and make more informed decisions. Metrics aren't going to save the day, but they provide a quantita- tive complement and a common la ng uage on how to mea su re productivity as ports adopt best- practices a nd working g roups explore trucking appointment sys- tems and new technology. In fact, the data for the proposed metrics are already available — just not col- lected on a national scale. Many working group members shut down the idea of looking at crane moves, choosing instead to focus on port and terminal capacity, instead of velocity of cargo movement. The barometers, to be delivered annually by the Bureau of Trans- portation Statistics to Congress, will provide a glimpse into whether port productivity is improving or worsening, and what links in the containerized supply chains most need shoring up. The report — in which port authorities, labor, termi- nals, railroads and too few shippers are giving their views — will also keep the issue of port productivity in front of legislators, who can boost infrastructure funding and freight network planning. Considering that the orig i- n a l c o n g r e s s i o n a l p u s h f o r metrics began as a way to deter- mine whether port productivity declined during labor negotiations, the International Longshoremen's Associations and International Longshore Warehouse Union are naturally suspicious. The march- ing orders to BTS have changed, however, taking out that provision. Besides, the BTS is looking to col- lect already-available data, which is often used at the bargaining table by waterfront employers. Another argument against the creation of metrics is that there are too many factors to calculate, and major industry changes, from new shipping alliances to larger ships, make it impossible to lock down pro- ductivity levels and compare them on an annual basis. That line of reason- ing suggests that port productivity is something that can't be measured — even if the barometers give indi- cations of productivity, rather than a definitive calculation of the speed in which cargo moves from the ship to outside terminal gates. And the dra- matic industry changes challenging port productivity are precisely why the industry needs to measure per- formance in order to put these forces into context. There is also fear that the met- rics will allow the industry to make unfair comparisons of port pro- ductivity, disregarding each port's different terminal capacity, inter- modal rail capabilities, crane sizes and other factors. Making mistaken assumptions using metrics is a col- lateral risk anytime something is being measured, but concern of spu- rious conclusions shouldn't stop the industry from trying to gauge. The creation of port productiv- ity metrics isn't going to be easy, and it's going to take increased trust from labor, marine terminals, port authorities and railroads. Instead, of resisting the inevitable measuring of productivity, no matter how pain- ful and embarrassing it might be for some, the industry should embrace the opportunity to show its custom- ers, shippers, that it understands their plight and wants to help. "This legislation was called for by numerous cargo owners because of perceived and real lack of transparency," said Gene Seroka, executive director at the Port of Los Angeles. "We in the industry put ourselves in this position." JOC Contact Mark Szakonyi at and follow him on Twitter: @szakonyi_joc. NOTE: Peter Tirschwell is on holiday this week. That line of reasoning suggests that port productivity is something that can't be measured.

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