Retailers who ship through the Port of Long Beach urged the second-largest U.S. port not to move forward with its proposal to change free time provisions in its tariff from four days at present to six work shifts until the Southern California port complex gets a better handle on its congestion problems.
“Implementing a shorter free time in a ‘status quo’ environment with stressed and congested terminals and infrastructure won’t help solve the problem,” the National Retail Federation stated in a letter to the port that it released on Monday.
The issue of storing containers on marine terminals is becoming increasingly important, and controversial, at major gateways due to the relentless drive by carriers to deploy ever larger vessels in the container trades. Keeping containers on the docks for four days, as Long Beach allows in its tariff, and even allowing containers to exceed four days as long as someone pays demurrage fees, contributes to congestion.
As one of a number of proposals to improve terminal fluidity, Long Beach in November proposed changing the free-time provision from four calendar days to six work shifts. The assumption beyond this proposal is that the containers would sit on the docks for two work shifts each day for three consecutive days, in effect encouraging cargo owners to remove the containers from the terminals after three calendar days rather than four.
NRF stated that it strongly supports the port’s efforts to develop processes that will reduce port congestion, but the retailers warned that without consistent gate hours at the 13 container terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach, and tariff synchronization by both ports, Long Beach’s proposal could actually cause increased congestion and confusion.
The retailers said they want to continue to pursue innovative approaches to reducing port congestion through the supply chain optimization working group established last year by Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the NRF urged Long Beach work with all members of the transportation community to thoroughly analyze all such proposals before enacting any of them.