Terminal operators in Los Angeles and Long Beach on the West Coast and New York-New Jersey on the East Coast -- the busiest U.S. ports -- are staying open longer to reduce congestion
and make better use of limited space.
However, Traffic World Magazine reports that many importers and exporters aren't willing to maintain similar hours at their own operations, and terminals aren't seeing enough traffic to justify the cost of a night shift, which can be as much as $25,000.
Maher Terminals, the largest terminal operator in the Port of New York and New Jersey, this year added a second shift five days a week, but usage has been spotty. "The response is not as we had hoped," said Brian Maher, the company's president.
Ports and terminal operators are under pressure to improve their productivity, reduce diesel emissions from idling trucks and relieve traffic jams on roadways. Extending gate hours, either through a second shift (6 p.m. to 2 a.m.) or an early morning "hoot owl" shift (3 a.m. to 8 a.m.) is the easiest, lowest-technology solution.
But if importers and exporters won't pay the extra cost of keeping their distribution centers open for a second or third shift, harbor truckers won't use the extended-hours gates. The truckers don't want to risk the liability of holding a container of costly merchandise overnight.
Even so, they're encouraging the industry to act. Failure to do so, they say, invites legislation such as a new California law that allows marine terminals to be fined $250 for every truck that must idle for more than 30 minutes. The law has encouraged terminals to establish appointment systems for trucks.
Shippers are the key to extended-hours gates. The Waterfront Coalition, which represents numerous large importers and retailers, is urging its members to support extended gates by committing enough traffic to off-peak hours to make the gates financially attractive to terminals.