FMC delays SoCal portsÂ’ truck plan

The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission said Friday it has temporarily blocked a key component of the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports' attempt to overhaul the Southern California drayage system.

The FMC, the federal regulatory agency overseeing regulation of ocean transportation within the foreign commerce of the United States, requested more information from the ports regarding their application for an antitrust agreement that the ports require to begin working with terminal operators on the truck plan.

The ports and members of the West Coast Marine Terminal Operators Agreement filed the agreement with the FMC on Feb. 14. The agreement asked the FMC to grant antitrust status to the ports and terminal operators for the sake of discussing and reaching "agreement on implementation andor administration of various portions of the Clean Air Action Plans that has been adopted by the ports' Boards of Harbor Commissioners." The drayage overhaul plan, approved by Long Beach two weeks ago and still awaiting final approval by Los Angeles, is a major component of the two ports' omnibus environmental planning document, the CAAP.

The ports' trucking plan, as approved by Long Beach, calls for the creation of a concession scheme that would require portsservicing trucking firms to obtain a portsissued license to gain access to any of the two ports facilities. To obtain a license, a trucking firm must meet a lengthy list of portsdefined criteria covering everything from maintaining proper documentation to allowing the ports to approve potential buyers of a trucking firm. The Long Beach version did not stipulate that a trucking firm had to hire employees or independent owneroperators, while Los Angeles Harbor Commissioners retained an employeeonly stipulation in their version.

While both ports have passed the overall language of the truck plan, officials from both ports must meet with the terminal operators to work out details of how the plan would work.

The first steps of the truck plan are set to take effect on Oct. 1, when nearly 3,000 older trucks will be barred from entering the ports. The FMC decision may make meeting that implementation date very difficult for the ports.

The FMC decision essentially stops the clock on the process to approve the agreement. The ports do not have a set time when they must respond to the request for additional information. However, the agreement can only move forward once the ports satisfy the FMC request. The FMC plans to transmit a detailed request to the ports and terminal operators involved in the agreement no later than Friday.

Once the ports respond, the FMC resets the process clock at 45 days and can take one of three actions on the agreement within this time frame:

The commission can delay the agreement further by asking for more information.

It can block the agreement by seeking an injunction.

It can do nothing and the agreement goes into effect at the end of the 45day period.

If the ports quickly respond to the FMC request, it would likely be midMay before the agreement goes into effect. Industry experts have predicted that the truck plan details will take at least three months to hammer out and even longer to prepare for implementation.

Earlier this month, an arm of the American Trucking Association filed a 26page request to the FMC asking the agency to block the antitrust agreement between the two ports. The ATA claimed that the truck plan would make the ports' terminal operators "daytoday enforcers" of the ports' truck plans. The group also charged the two adjacent ports with implementing an "unlawful `concession' mechanism" in the guise of the truck plan.

On Monday, the ATA said it was pleased with the FMC decision.

We are certainly pleased that the FMC is trying to get more information about the ports' legal ability to enact this truck plan, as we asked in our March 3 letter," said Curtis Whalen, executive director of the ATA's Intermodal Motor Carrier Conference. "We are continuing to work with LB on their version of the plan so we view this is more of an impact on Los Angeles."

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