The PierPass program, designed to reduce truck congestion at local ports by shifting cargo pick-ups to nighttime hours, is already drawing complaints and it hasn't even started.


Under the new program, importers will be charged extra fees for using the ports during the daytime in order to subsidize nighttime use. But drivers are miffed that none of the incentives are being passed on to them.


"They are either going to give them incentive to work at night or they are not going to have anybody there," said Stephanie Williams, vice president of the California Trucking Association. "People don't decide to work the night shift for the same amount of money that they work the day shift."


It's not clear whether the drivers have the muscle to force shippers to pay more. In their frequent disputes with terminal operators, drivers typically end up on the losing end; they are prohibited by federal law from organizing into a union.


Even so, there is a national shortage of drivers and if demand for nighttime deliveries begins to outstrip supply, someone might be forced to pay a nighttime differential. It's not clear who would pay the shippers or the trucking companies that hire the mostly independent drivers.


"The trucking companies may be in a position where they have to increase the rate of drivers' pay," said Robin Lanier, a consultant with the Waterfront Coalition, a retailers' trade group. "(But) I don't know of anyone, myself included, who knows how the market is going to respond."


PierPass is scheduled to begin on a trial basis with one off-peak shift per week in mid-July, and shift into full gear with five off-peak shifts per week a month later. Proponents say there is a built-in incentive for drivers to work night shifts because less traffic at night will allow them to make one or two more round trips (depending on the distance) per shift.


Truckers are paid between $75 and $150 per load, depending on the destination. During the day, they are forced to idle in line for hours inside terminals before picking up cargo. "There will be drivers that will find working off-peak will be more productive than during the daytime," said Bruce Wargo, manager of PierPass, which was created by port terminal operators.


Since registration began May 23, several hundred cargo owners have signed up for PierPass. Terminal operators ultimately hope to get 4,000 cargo owners. During the first month of the program, cargo owners or the logistics companies they've hired will pay $40 for every 40-foot container moved during the day. After 30 days, the fee will double.


Initially, the fees were to be returned to cargo owners and movers for each container moved at night or on Saturday. But with an estimated $160 million it will cost to run the program, the reimbursement clause was eliminated. This left no money for incentives paid to trucking companies, who in turn pay drivers.


What's more, many importers and retailers will already have to absorb additional costs in their nighttime warehouse and distribution operations.


PierPass operators want to move 10 to 20 percent of the ports' containers during off-peak hours after one year, 30 percent to 35 percent in the second year and 40 percent to 45 percent in the third year.


With 23,000 truck trips made on the Long Beach (710) Freeway daily and cargo traffic expected to increase at least 10 percent per year, at least 40 percent of the containers would have to be moved at night to make the program a success.


Retailers have an incentive in getting their goods shipped later avoiding the surcharge that will soon rise to $80 a load. But there is no incentive for trucking companies or drivers. In fact, adding clerks, inventory personnel and dispatchers will cost Rancho Dominguez-based Transport Express $275,000 a year, according to Patty Senecal, vice president of sales and marketing for the trucking company.


She surveyed executives at 20 port trucking operations (including drivers at her firm) and found there was not overwhelming support at any of them. The first question nearly all drivers ask is whether their pay rate will be higher, she said.


"We're having a very difficult time recruiting owner-operators because of the working conditions at the ports, the saturated freeways and the high cost of doing business in California," she said.

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