The Return of Cargo

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While economists debate whether the economy is recovering, we’re seeing signs of improvement at the ports. Cargo volume at the Port of Los Angeles in May 2010 was up nearly 20 percent compared to the same period last year. We remain cautiously optimistic about when we’ll see a full recovery, but it’s certainly an improvement from the 32 percent plunge we saw in the fourth quarter of 2008 from the same period in 2007.

The Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 led to deep losses for the MTOs (and all of us), forcing them to cut costs by reducing the number of OffPeak gates and cutting back on noon relief and flex gates. This has contributed in part to truck congestion at the gates (see “Trucks Waiting Longer at Calif. Ports as Cargo Rise Hits Leaner Terminals” in Transport Topics).

MTOs have been watching cargo volumes closely, and now that we’re seeing an uptick in volume, they are taking steps to reinstate some of the services they had to cut last year. Seven of 13 terminal operators have returned to five OffPeak shifts, 10 reinstated the noon hour relief (working through lunch), and four have added back flex gates (starting shifts an hour earlier).

The MTOs are committed to the efficient flow of cargo through the ports. In fact, the San Pedro Bay ports offer the most shifts of any port in the nation, with 58 gates. As the economy and cargo volumes pick up, we will continue to assess how to improve cargo flow and reduce truck congestion.