Trucking interests are preparing a request for temporary flexibility in the hours of service rules to help ease the congestion that is plaguing major ports.
“We need some relief now,” said Curtis Whalen, executive director of the American Trucking Associations Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference.
Whalen said ATA is working with the California Trucking Association and the Southern California Harbor Trucking Association to craft a petition to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association.
Their immediate focus is the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach but if they are successful they will expand their effort to other ports where congestion is a problem, such as New York, New Jersey and Virginia, Whalen said.
The petition will not be a one-size-fits-all solution, he said. Each port has its own operating characteristics and may require different treatment.
For the California ports, the carrier groups are looking at the possibility of a temporary waiver so waiting time will not be counted as on-duty time, Whalen said.
They also are considering asking for relief from the 34-hour restart provision, which requires drivers to take off two successive periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. during their restart.
The problem, Whalen said, is that the restart can limit the effectiveness of the traditional methods of dealing with congestion, such as extending gate hours or opening gates on the weekend.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can get some relief there which does not impact safety,” he said.
The groups are meeting this week and if they can draft a suitable petition they will send it to the agency as soon as possible, he said.
At issue is the slowdown in container movements at West Coast ports due to bigger ships, seasonal high traffic volumes and uncertainty surrounding stalled labor negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association.
The labor contract expired last July and shippers and carriers are increasingly concerned that the situation could lead to a shutdown of West Coast ports.
A group of carrier interests, including ATA, recently joined shippers in a plea to President Obama for quick action, including support for a federal mediator.
“We have seen crisis levels of congestion at the ports since September,” they said in a Nov. 6 letter to Obama.
A related problem is that ports are losing drivers because they can’t make a living operating with the long wait times, Whalen said.
“They’re taking their CDLs and going to other areas of trucking, and there is no reason to expect that they will immediately come back, assuming we can solve congestion,” he said.