Bill Mongelluzzo, March 10, 2014, Journal of Commerce
Truck drivers at Port Metro Vancouver on March 10 picketed the Pacific Coast port to protest extensive delays at marine terminals that the truckers say are making their economic situation intolerable.
The port authority said only 10 percent of the normal truck traffic was getting into and out of the marine terminals on March 10. About 50 percent of total port traffic moves by truck and 50 percent moves by rail.
Louise Yako, president and CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association, said harbor trucking companies reported that many union and non-union drivers failed to report to work on Monday, and this was having a noticeable impact on truck traffic in the harbor.
Trucker demonstrations to protest long waits at congested marine terminals have disrupted Canada’s largest container port for the past two weeks. As tensions mounted last week, the Canadian government appointed veteran mediator Vince Ready to save the day. Ready quickly developed a plan, which he submitted to the truckers at the weekend, but they said it was too little and too late.
Truck problems have plagued Port Metro Vancouver on and off since at least 2005, when a six-week strike cost the national economy an estimated Canadian $800 million. Ready at that time developed a harbor-trucking rate plan that to this day carries his name.
However, truckers say that over the years exceptions were granted to certain companies, while other low-ball operators entered harbor work and wages gradually eroded. Striking drivers say the average wage for harbor truck drivers today is about $7 lower than for other trucking sectors in British Columbia.
Meanwhile, bad winter weather in the eastern half of North America has resulted in intermodal trains being delayed and unable to return to the Pacific Coast to pick up new containers that enter the ports each week. The bad weather in the East has affected ports up and down the coast, including even sunny Southern California, where truckers are reporting equipment shortages and dislocations.
Many ports in North America are also dealing with ever-larger vessels that discharge thousands of containers during each call. In Los Angeles-Long Beach, for example, vessels with a capacity of 8,000 20-foot container units often discharge and reload 5,000 containers per vessel call. As many as 10,000 container moves have been reported from the larger vessels that range in size from 10,000 to 14,000-TEU capacity.
At the JOC’s TPM conference in Long Beach last week, port congestion was one of the hottest topics. Industry experts said the ports and terminal operators must work more closely with the harbor trucking industry and beneficial cargo owners to develop and implement an action plan, or the mega-ships being deployed by carrier alliances will have a serious impact on international trade.
Vancouver handles about 2.5 million TEUs a year at four container terminals. Retailers earlier this year indicated that Canadian ports could see a bump in cargo this summer if contract talks in the U.S. between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association break down this summer as they did in 2002.
However, Darryl Anderson, managing director at Wave Point Consulting in British Columbia, told the JOC that Vancouver’s gains could be only incremental because intermodal shippers most likely will not get favorable enough intermodal rates to the U.S. market through Vancouver to make diversion of a meaningful share of cargo feasible.
The latest series of trucker actions also cast doubt on the reliability of Vancouver as a gateway. Anderson said Port Metro Vancouver has been slow to realize how frustrated the harbor trucking industry is with the wait times at marine terminals and with the trucking rates in effect in the harbor.
A port authority release on March 10 stated that truckers should be paid more. It also recounted actions that are being taken to relieve congestion, including construction of road-rail bypasses, use of GPS systems to monitor truck efficiency, initiation of a gate efficiency fee program and initiation of a pilot program to extend gate hours.