Port Seeking Charges For Moving Cargo in Heavy Traffic Periods

By DAVID GREENBERG
Staff Reporter

As part of an effort to reduce traffic congestion, the Port of Los Angeles has set in motion plans to penalize shippers for moving cargo during daytime hours.

The plan, being spearheaded by the L.A. Board of Harbor Commissioners and L.A. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, is to levy a surcharge on containers moved during peak hours, giving importers and exporters an incentive to transport goods at night.

Area residents have long pressured port officials to alleviate gridlock on the Long Beach (710) Freeway and other port access roads. The L.A. port along with Long Beach, which hasn't yet formally signed on is also feeling pressure from the state Legislature to devise a solution or face more stringent rules.

The amount of the surcharge has not yet been determined.

In December, a task force co-chaired by Hahn decided that so-called "premium day fees" were the best way to implement extended gate hours at the ports. Last month a sub-group began work on devising a proposed rate structure. Long Beach, which has several city and port officials on the task force, is expected to formally join the program soon.

Under the plan, the daytime surcharge would be used to subsidize nighttime operations, which often lose money due to lack of traffic.

The Waterfront Coalition, a shippers' trade group, opposes the measure. Ezra Finkin, legislative representative for the coalition, argues that it would punish large importers, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., that already plan to use more night gates, along with small retailers that cannot afford additional fees and labor costs.

Combined, the ports account for about 155,400 truck trips per week, of which about 85 percent occur between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Through extended gate hours, the ports want to reduce daytime truck trips by 40 percent.

The technical subgroup was aiming to introduce the fee proposal to the larger task force on Feb. 19 in hopes of implementing a pilot program this summer and full implementation by the end of the year.

However, the surcharge may be delayed by antitrust provisions of the Shipping Act of 1984, which would require an exception from the Federal Maritime Commission in order for ports, terminal operators and steamship lines to discuss rates and gate operations together. The exception would have to be granted before the full task force officially considers the proposal, said Eric Moses, a spokesman for L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. However, Moses said, the subgroup can continue to work on the proposal.

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