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.

* The full story is available in the June 6 issue of the Los Angeles Business Journal.

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