A Three Hour Tour

At least Gilligan found an island.  

A few days ago, my Santa Monica colleague Melissa LinPerrella and I took our Beijing colleague Alex Wang and a small delegation from Chinese academia and journalism on a boat tour of the Port of Los Angeles.  What we saw was, mostly, nothing.  Of the 30 container ship berths at the Port, we saw exactly 3 ships at dock.  The cruise ship terminal had no ships.  Ports O'Call, the well-known local restaurant with a great view of the (empty) harbor, was deserted at lunchtime. 

One consequence of this economic meltdown is that the port trucking industry has been reduced even more to fighting over scraps.  Despite the Port of LA's concession plan that phases in a requirement for employee drivers, some trucking companies are still trying to nickel and dime the men and women who drive for them.  If that continues, the Port's carefully thought-out plan to replace its thousands of dirty trucks with clean ones won't work because the trucking companies won't be able to find or keep qualified drivers.  

And things could get worse.  The February 23, 2009 issue of The Journal of Commerce reports that ocean shipping companies, whose rates are themselves down over 20%, have asked trucking companies for a 10% reduction in rates for "store door" deliveries - deliveries to the cargo owner's place of business (as opposed to delivery to a railyard).  Port truckers live and work on such a small margin that this could be the difference between being able to buy diesel fuel for a truck, and parking it.  And if the truck is parked, the "independent" driver's family won't eat. 

Environmentally sound solutions need to be economically sound to work.  One of many, many reasons to get our economy moving again is to reduce the intense downward pressure on port trucking so that the industry can afford to buy new, clean trucks and get rid of their old ones.  If that doesn't work, there will be even more room for boat tours at the Port of LA without anything left to see.