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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Fires Adding to “Nightmare” for Truck Drivers and Distributors

Fires Adding to ‘Nightmare’ for Truck Drivers and Distributors

By DAVID GREENBERG

Staff Reporter

If you’re in the business of moving around goods, these past few weeks have not been pretty even by L.A. standards.

The combination of wildfires and the ongoing strike of MTA mechanics has left streets and freeways even more crowded than usual and created a ripple effect throughout the distribution and delivery chain, delaying shipments of hundreds of million dollars worth of goods.

“Traffic has been a nightmare,” said Marina Davtyan, owner of Motion Picture Flowers, which makes 15 to 20 deliveries a day. “It’s changing our business (because) it’s just really difficult to get our deliveries out especially to places like Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Northridge or any place that requires driving on the 101 and the 405. There used to be no traffic on the 170 in North Hollywood. Now even that’s backed up.”

Customers are being told that same-day service is not available and that delivery charges have increased significantly. A roundtrip from the Burbank shop to Beverly Hills now comes with a $15 charge, up from $8 before the strike. That’s because the journey to West L.A. now takes two hours instead of the usual hour.

In the first days of the mechanics walkout, a report by the L.A. Department of Transportation found a 4.4 percent jump in overall traffic, based on a sampling of 11 major intersections and freeway ramps. But in some sections of the city, the increase was closer to 10 percent. For other areas, the impact has been relatively small.

Meanwhile, rail traffic coming from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach came to a halt for 14 hours last week after firefighters and California forest officials shut down the Cajon Pass the main east-west corridors linking L.A. and San Diego with points east.

Interstate 15 at Victorville was periodically closed and reopened during the early part of the week, leaving truckers to navigate detour routes to and from Interstate 10 and other main access roads.

These delays created a backlog of container traffic at the ports, which counts August through October as its busiest shipping months of the year when the last of the holiday season importers arrive.

“There’s going to be delays for everybody,” said Stephanie Williams, vice president of the California Trucking Association. “Whenever there’s a kink in the system, there’s a trickle down effect.”

The Union Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway the two railroads serving the ports said they had trains stuck in the region throughout most of last week.

Each Burlington Northern train hauls about 280 40-foot containers with a per-container retail value ranging from $200,000 (apparel, footwear, or new toys) to $1 million (new high tech equipment and games).

“The fire was right on us in the Devore area,” said Lena Kent, spokeswoman for Burlington Northern. “It has reached a point where it was not considered safe to continue operating trains through there.”

Railroad operators rented water trucks to protect their operations around the pass and to refill local fire trucks battling the blaze. After the pass re-opened, Union Pacific sent extra locomotives to clear out the backlog as soon as possible. It was still expected to take at least two to four days to catch up.

“One big reason the fire command centers shut down Cajon pass is they didn’t want trains blocking any crossings,” said John Bromley, a spokesman for Union Pacific. “They wanted to make sure people evacuating could get out.”

Logistics experts said the delays hurt manufacturers at an especially vulnerable time of year. “It disrupts the wholesalers cash flow,” said Guy Fox, executive vice president of customs services for Redondo Beach-based Stonepath Logistics Inc. “They don’t get paid until they deliver.”

Meanwhile, the trucking community was dealing with massive traffic jams in and around Interstate 15, as well as numerous warehouses in Fontana and Rialto that were temporarily evacuated or short staffed because employees have been forced to leave their homes.

As a result, cargo that would normally be picked up within a day or two after it arrived at the docks is now being left for up to the five-day limit before demurrage fees starting at $50 per day kick in for importers.

As convoluted as the logistics chain can be under normal circumstances, the fire has made operations that much worse, forcing trucking companies to stay in frequent contact with the ports, warehouses and traffic officials.

“We have to have great flexibility and work very closely with the customers ‘Are you open? Can you receive? We’ll check back with you tomorrow,'” said Patty Senecal, vice president of Transport Express, a Rancho Dominguez trucking company. “It’s changing daily.”

Some warehouses that reopened by midweek were a day or two behind their outbound shipping and would not take any new containers until they were caught up.

“Right now, I’d classify it as a minor inconvenience,” said Jay Carroll, vice president of logistics for Cypress-based Toyo Tire (USA) Corp. “People generally understand we’re going to do the best we can. Because of our past relationships, they will accept a two- or three- or four-day delay.”

But Toyo’s shipments to warehouses in Atlanta, Dallas, Allentown, Penn. and Nashville, Ill. will be delayed by about four days, which means all delivery times for the company’s wholesale tire dealers will have to be reset.

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