How 81,000 shades of gray might ease L.A. ports' cargo backlog

Cargo on the Hyundai Faith's ship will be unloaded at The Port of Los Angeles.
Cargo on the Hyundai Faith's ship will be unloaded at The Port of Los Angeles.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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After a labor dispute slowed port traffic to a crawl, crews are addressing long-standing logistical snarls to clear a backlog of shipping containers. A new agreement, which went into effect March 1, allows truck drivers to share a huge pool of trailers, also known as chassis, to transport shipping containers faster.

Dubbed the "Gray Chassis Pool," the agreement came as three large chassis companies merged their inventories, creating a pool of 81,000 trailers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Prior to the agreement, truckers were bound by contracts between shipping and chassis companies, which stipulated that they could only match specific chassis to specific trailers. 

Fred Johring, chairman of the Harbor Trucking Association explained how those contracts became problematic for truckers. "So if I go in to pick up an ABC container, and it requires an XYZ chassis, and they are out of those chassis, I can't pick it up," he said, adding that the contracts created "artificial shortages" and delayed truckers hauling cargo to inland cities.

Those owners in the new pool include Direct ChassisLink Inc., Flexi-Van Leasing Inc. and TRAC Intermodal.
"Under the Gray Chassis Pool, we'll be able to use any chassis we see to pick up any container we see, and that will relieve some of the concerns we have about chassis availability," Johring said.  "Your chance of getting a chassis becomes a lot higher when you have that kind of a pool to work with."

While optimistic, Johring was also lukewarm about the progress made so far.

"We can't fix this monster in a week," he said. "We have still seen chassis shortages from terminal to terminal...it's not all fixed, but our fingers are crossed." 

Port of Long Beach spokesman Lee Peterson said it appeared the equipment pool had increased the pace of goods leaving the port, but that before-and-after statistics were not immediately available.

Johring said there is other problem solving to be done at the port. He wants the ports and chassis owners to create tools to better predict which piers need more chassis to reduce waiting times for drivers.