Both the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have moved aggressively to plug a loophole allowing hundreds of dirty trucks to do business on their properties despite the otherwise stringent Clean Truck Program.

Initiated in 2008, the program requires big rigs entering the ports to meet 2007 federal emission standards by 2012. Because most port hauling is done by Class 8 tractors – three-axle vehicles that can carry up to 80,000 pounds – the original regulations applied only to them.

Many freight companies spent millions upgrading their fleets, but as the Business Journal reported in October, others found a way around the rules by reverting to older, smaller, dirtier Class 7 two-axle tractors to move empty or lightly filled containers. By late last year, the number of Class 7 trucks registered to work at the Port of Los Angeles had jumped from just 28 to more than 500. The numbers were comparable at Long Beach.

“It was a loophole that we felt we needed to close,” said Port of Los Angeles spokesman Phillip Sanfield.

Late last month, the boards governing both ports took steps to do just that by voting to expand their respective Clean Air Programs to include Class 7 trucks. The new standards for the smaller trucks will take effect at both ports July 1. By then, officials said, all Class 7 trucks still in use will be registered, equipped with electronic devices and monitored at the gates. To continue working in the ports, the trucks will have to be upgraded to meet new emission standards.

As part of the same effort, the ports are enacting bans on the practice of switching cargo from compliant trucks to banned trucks on port property, a practice known as “dray-offs.” By transferring cargo from new upgraded trucks to older, more cheaply run “dirty” vehicles for the longer hauls, freight companies can lower operating costs.

At Los Angeles, any driver violating the dray-off rule will be subject to fines of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail. In Long Beach, the ban and penalties are set to be finalized this week by the Board of Harbor Commissioners.

Zero Emissions

In another joint action, the two ports have agreed to purchase two zero-emission vehicles from an El Segundo company for an 18-month test drive expected to begin early this year.

Vision Motor Corp. will supply one big-rig truck and a terminal tractor for $425,000, with the cost to be split by the ports. Both are hybrid vehicles equipped with hydrogen fuel cells that automatically recharge their electric batteries without producing pollution.

The on-road heavy-duty truck will be operated by Total Transportation Services Inc., a Rancho Dominguez freight hauler that services both ports. The yard tractor, to be used mainly within the confines of both ports, will be operated by California Cartage Express of Wilmington.

The purchases, negotiated in December, follow a similar one made last year by the Los Angeles port, which spent $280,000 for a Vision Motor truck designed to carry a 40-ton load up to 200 miles before refueling. Vision Chief Executive Martin Schuermann, at the time, called it “a leap of faith for the port” and “a breakthrough for our company.”

Vision, founded in Florida six years ago as Cheetah Consulting Inc., changed its name and relocated to California in 2008 after acquiring licensing for its electric drive system and hydrogen fuel cell technology from Ice Conversions Inc., a Malibu firm.

The company is registered in Florida as Vision Industries Corp.

Speaking of Small Business

The Los Angeles Harbor Commission this week approved what it called a Very Small Business Enterprise program under which at least 5 percent of professional service and construction contracts in the Port of Los Angeles will be awarded to businesses with less than $3.5 million in gross revenue or manufacturing companies with fewer than 25 employees.

The program is part of the port’s existing Small Business Enterprise Program, under which at least 25 percent of the port’s contracts are awarded to qualified small businesses.

“Entrepreneurs are the backbone of our regional economy and we want to … support them,” said port Executive Director Geraldine Knatz in a press release.

Staff reporter David Haldane can be reached at dhaldane@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 225.

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