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FMC Commissioner Calls for More Action to Speed Up LA/Long Beach Cargo

marine exchange los angeles anchorage
Vessels waiting off LA / Long Beach (Marine Exchange file image)

Published Dec 1, 2021 10:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, a member of the Federal Maritime Commission called for the FMC to take additional action on port congestion at the ports of LA and Long Beach by addressing issues with night hours and truck appointments. 

The twin ports are at the epicenter of the U.S. supply chain crisis, and they are overburdened with containers of Asian imports for American consumers. To address the crisis, the Biden administration has been working closely with port stakeholders to address bottlenecks, including the addition of regular 24/7 gate operations for the first time. 

On Wednesday, the FMC agreed to allow terminals to stop charging a traffic mitigation fee during nighttime hours, giving truckers and shippers an incentive to use the extra period of availability. The ports say that utilization of the recently-implemented night shift has been relatively low so far; the waiver of the traffic fee might provide reason for some shippers to start taking advantage of the after-hours option. 

In a statement, Bentzel said that "more aggressive action will be needed in the future" to make the most out of 24/7 gate operations and to get all actors "rowing in the same direction."

"I also question whether an opportunity to amend the appointment system was lost," he said. "The current appointment system has not been successful in ensuring that appointments will be kept. Each terminal operates its own system, and this balkanization impacts the effectiveness of the appointment process. The industry should explore how to strengthen this program."

The challenge facing LA and Long Beach is unprecedented. Traffic volume is up by about one-quarter, without an equivalent increase in yard space or equipment. According to Bentzel, the congestion at the ports is reducing their handling capacity by about 15 percent - capacity that could otherwise be used to alleviate the backlog of boxships waiting in San Pedro Bay and the Pacific.

"It is an incredibly difficult challenge to overcome these factors in an infrastructure confined area, which is why we need this LA/LB port complex to work with maximum efficiency," said Bentzel. "While I commend the marine terminals for taking the first step to truly incent nighttime moves at LA/LB, more can and should be done."