Photo by Brian Addison.
While the current congestion at the Port of Long Beach is a costly issue for everyone, from truck drivers to shippers to dock workers to retailers, solutions to the bottleneck are put simply by Port officials: it’s a matter of strategy and proper placement of the necessary tools to keep our Port at its most efficient.
So what’s the hold up?
While the current contract negotiations have been cited as one of the causes for the delay at the Port of Los Angeles, Lee Peterson, a spokesman for the Port of Long Beach said, “We don’t see the longshore contract negotiations as a factor in the congestion. The cause is due to the chassis situation and the high volume of cargo this peak season.”
Dr. Noel Hacegaba, Chief Commercial Officer for the Port of Long Beach explained that a shortage of chassis, or trailers, that truckers use to move cargo from the ports to inland warehouses, is the root problem for the congestion.
“Related to that is what we identify as an imbalance of chassis," Hacebaga said. "We don't have enough chassis to go around and on top of that the ones that are available are not where they're supposed to be... A big ship comes to Terminal A, for example, but Terminal B has all the chassis.”
According to Hacegaba, one of the first things the Port implemented to assuage the situation was to assemble a congestion relief team made of Port staff. Daily reports and updates on the activities of all on-the-ground information are kept so the team can act quickly and accordingly.
The second effort will include acquiring a fleet of chassis that the Port would own and could utilize during the peak holiday season.
Hacegaba said, “You've got these chassis operators that own the chassis and they make these chassis available. Their business model is that they plan for an average deployment per week. Their chassis fleet corresponds to what they determine to be an average usage. Peak season raises the need for chassis well above the average. We would acquire a fleet of chassis to augment the existing chassis supply.”
Another factor causing the bottleneck includes a much more sizable issue, the evolution of the container vessel.
“Five years ago the average container could carry 8,000 TEU, today at the Port of Long Beach, we see vessels that are 12,000 and 14,000 TEU,” he said.
Bigger ships bringing in almost twice as much cargo to ports that were designed to handle much less are taxing terminals that have yet to be augmented to handle more.
“We’ve had times where congestion was even worse," Hacegaba said. "We take any congestion very seriously because at the end of the day it's our gateway, it's our reputation. What's important here is that we are going above and beyond the traditional role as a port authority, we’re looking at ways to prevent this from ever happening again. There shouldn't be a chassis shortage or imbalance. We should be a lot more efficient as America's largest gateway.”
Peterson noted that they expect the situation to "get better soon" as volumes begin to taper off in November and the chassis demand is met by the industry; however, concerns that the congestion may clog itself into November are not impossible.
Conclusively, nobody benefits from congestion but, in the words of Hacebaga, "everybody wins when cargo crosses our gateway quickly and efficiently."