24/7 Operations

As you probably know by now, President Joe Biden announced in mid-October that the Port of Los Angeles would begin operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to deal with a backlog of cargo that needs to be moved off the docks, and to help reduce a queue of dozens of containerships sitting anchored in San Pedro Bay.

And while the announcement was certainly a welcome one for those in the maritime goods movement industry, don’t expect the backlog to be cleared overnight. Or within a week. Or maybe not even by the end of the year.

That’s because although President Biden and port Executive Director Gene Seroka have both committed to the 24/7 operational method, it takes a lot more than those two leaders to actually make it happen. It’ll take a concerted effort between port administrators, terminal operators, longshore workers, truck drivers, shippers, 3PLs and more to actually push the port toward being a 24-hour workplace.

Seroka himself has even acknowledged this.

“There’s no timeline when suddenly we will wake up and everything will be 24/7,” he told media members in an interview following the President’s announcement.

Moving to around-the-clock operations is something that both San Pedro Bay ports—
Los Angeles and Long Beach—should have done years ago. But the logistical challenges that have prevented it in the past still exist today.

After all, what good is it if terminals are open 24/7 if there’s no drayage truckers willing to pick up cargo in the wee hours? Or if truckers do pick up containers and have nowhere to take them because warehouses aren’t open?

Despite the president’s proclamation about the POLA adding new off-peak nighttime shifts and weekend hours, he can’t just snap his fingers and make it happen. There needs to be buy-in, particularly by organized labor, specifically the powerful International Longshore & Warehouse Union.

For the Southern California goods movement industry to truly move forward in a substantial way, the various sectors within the industry need to think about not what’s best for them and benefits them the most, but about what’s best for the entire supply chain.

Seeing dozens of containerships anchored in the San Pedro Bay during peak shipping season waiting for several days, or sometimes even weeks to be brought to berth is both embarrassing and unnecessary. The infrastructure is in place to move cargo through the docks 24/7, it’s just that up until now, separate agendas amongst the various parties that could make it happen have gotten in the way.

But not only would around the clock goods movement help deal with the container backlog, it could theoretically help spread out the constant flow of drayage trucks on nearby freeways so that fewer trucks are there during morning and evening commutes, thereby cutting back the number of vehicles participating in the horrible traffic jams that plague port areas.

What’s needed is 24/7 operations at terminals at both ports. And not just certain terminals on an interim basis, but most terminals, permanently. Because one thing that we’ve learned over the past year-and-a-half is that even during a pandemic, the cargo still comes.

In fact, the coronavirus has even resulted in more cargo being shipped to the U.S., as people now working from home order more and more stuff for their abodes.

And even though it’s likely that the current month-after-month of record-setting container throughput at Long Beach and Los Angeles aren’t likely to continue, the fact is that until the next major recession hits, higher than pre-pandemic amounts of goods shipments are the new norm.

So, the components that make up Southern California’s container movement industry need to work to not just catch up to what’s happening, but to make plans and take steps to get and stay ahead of the curve so that goods aren’t stuck on the docks, ships aren’t stuck at anchorage and consumers aren’t stuck wondering if the stuff they ordered will ever come.

Managing Editor Mark Nero can be reached at: mark@maritimepublishing.com