NRF Wants More Statistics on U.S. Port Congestion


By The Maritime Executive 2016-01-14 18:58:05

Following up on last fall’s successful campaign to include a port performance statistics program in the U.S. federal long-term surface transportation bill, the National Retail Federation (NRF) now leads a coalition of more than 100 groups in sending specific recommendations to the Department of Transportation. 

“Having efficient, modern ports is important for the free flow of international trade, both imports and exports, and critical for our respective industries,” the coalition of organizations representing retailers, manufacturers, farmers, logistics providers and other supply chain stakeholders wrote in a letter to Secretary Anthony Foxx.

“Our interest in performance measures is long-standing, but has been recently spurred by significant congestion and cargo delivery delays at the nation’s largest container ports,” the letter said. “These delays have a ripple effect throughout the supply chain, impacting all of our collective members, as well as the overall U.S. economy.”

In June last year, a divided Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation requiring the government to report on the performance of major U.S. port operations, including during labor contract talks.

Titled the Port Performance Act, the bill is intended to help Congress analyze supply trends and identify freight bottlenecks by requiring U.S. Department of Transportation data on capacity levels and cargo volumes at major U.S. ports.

In addition to annual port statistics, the bill would require performance reports before the expiration of a labor agreement and each month thereafter until a new contract is reached.

Supporters including shippers, manufacturers, agriculture interests and retailers say greater visibility into port operations is necessary after West Coast ports partially shut down during protracted labor negotiations between last July and February.

The bill's Republican sponsors say the dispute cost the economy $2.5 billion a day until President Barack Obama decided to mediate in the talks.

Democrats led by Senator Bill Nelson of Florida warned at the time that the reporting requirement could put U.S. ports at a competitive disadvantage by divulging proprietary information and distract operators from priorities including modernization.

The coalition’s letter argued that the Transportation Department should include cargo owners or shippers among the participants in the working group developing the port performance statistics program.

“We have been the drivers of discussions about port key performance measures for many years,” the letter said. “We believe it is imperative for [the Bureau of Transportation Statistics] to take shipper interests into account in developing the port statistics program.”

NRF and the other organizations asked Foxx to include a number key performance indicators in the following areas in the new port performance statistics program created by December’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act:

•    Activities at the berth, including the number of containers moved to or from a ship and the number of days a vessel sits at the berth.

•    Activities within marine terminal yards, including container “dwell” time and port capacity as measured by container throughput.

•    Truck gate operations, including truck turn time (the time a trucker has to wait in line to get in the terminal and then pick up or drop off the container), availability of the tractor-trailer “chassis” on which containers are carried – particularly at peak times – and the impact of “trouble tickets” issued to truckers when cargo is not ready for pick up due to various reasons.

•    On-dock rail operations to evaluate the velocity through the port in places where ports can put together railroad trains of cargo on-dock.