WTS Transportation Academy Day 4: At the Ports

The WTS Transportation Academy for 2011 came to a close on Aug. 18 as we visited two of the busiest ports in the United States.

After the first three days learning about all forms of transportation (except aviation), we wrapped up our academy at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, learning about goods movement and how it benefits the economy from the local to the national scale.

At the Port of Long Beach headquarters, officials from both Port of Long Beach and Port of Los Angeles gave a joint presentation on everything from the history of the ports, operations, logistics and economic impacts.

Officials from both ports presented some interesting and insightful information on how both of these ports run. As separate entities, each port has its own board of commissioners consisting of the mayors of their respective cities as well as the rest of the board selected by its respective city councils.

The commissioners can vote on annual budgets for their respective ports but do not possess any formal authority over policy or operations. Both ports serve as landlord ports, meaning they do not directly operate their ports but simply maintain them while leasing out its own operations to the ocean carrier companies.

The Port of Long Beach has been around since 1911, marking its centennial this year. It consists of 3,200 acres of land, 35 miles of waterfront, 10 piers, 80 berths and 71 cranes.

As the second busiest port in the nation, the port produces great economic impacts on all levels.

  • The port processes $140 billion in goods each year.
  • $5 billion generated for local, state and national economy.
  • Results in 30,000 jobs in Long Beach, 300,000 jobs for southern California, 800,000 jobs for California and 1.4 million jobs for the United States.

In the last few years, the port has seen a decline in traffic due to the recession. It has since rebounded slowly but surely as demand for imports and exports rise once again. The busiest time for the port is generally in December when the holiday season kicks into full gear.

Also worth noting is its environmental initiative, the most ambitious but successful for a major port. Port officials have worked with shipping and trucking companies to establish standards to cut down on pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.

Working with the trucking companies, port officials instituted policies that required trucks serving the port to have cleaner fuel standards. So far, 94 percent of the trucks serving the port have cleaner fuel standards while leading to an 80 percent reduction in air pollution in the area.

As for reducing pollution from ships, the port also worked with ocean carrier companies to institute such measures like having the ships run at lower speeds to save fuel and prevent significant pollution. As a result, it led to an 80 percent drop in vessel particulate matter emissions. Companies that meet the standards also receive a 25 percent dockage discount for doing business with the port.

Overall, the port has seen an 18 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions. With the slow economy leading to less imports, a rebounding economy could lead to further capacity constraints in a rapidly growing port as well as result in adverse environmental conditions. Nevertheless, the port continues to maintain its ambitious plan to make this one of the most greenest port in the world, now and for the future.

Port of Los Angeles officials also gave presentations on similar topics including its efforts to become a more green port, economic impacts and running the most high-tech security system for a port in the nation.

Following the presentations, we all went up to the top floor of the headquarters for a breathtaking view of the entire port from the freight rail yards to cranes to shipping containers.

From the top, we also can see the Gerald Desmond Bridge, a bridge that links both Ports of L.A. and Long Beach and heavily used by trucks. Due to the aging infrastructure as well as the narrow 4-lane bridge, the bridge is slated for replacement with better infrastructure, more lanes and pedestrian and bike access within the next several years.

Later on, we all headed over to the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro where we went on a boat chartered by the port officials. During the ride, we took a ride around the Rancho Palos Verdes area, saw the cargo vessels up close as we cruised through both ports, saw the giant cranes that lifted the cargo from the ships and passed underneath the Vincent Thomas bridge. As I live in Fullerton, I often see freight trains pass by and I see some of the same familiar companies printed on the side of the shipping containers such as Yang Ming, Hyundai and MOL. It was amazing to see up close and from the ocean where it all comes from.

Once our ship docked back in San Pedro, that marked the official end of the academy. It was amazing to have spent these four days learning so much about the transportation field from some pretty terrific professionals within the industry. I really learned a lot from all of them and they did a good job of presenting all the information that we needed to learn in order to help us navigate toward a career path in this exciting and vital industry.

WTS Transportation Academy class of 2011

I would be remiss if I did not mention all of the amazing people I participated in the academy with. All of the fellow students that I was with during those four days were pretty sharp, talented and articulate people who came to the right place at the right time. I believe every one of us finished this academy with a clear understanding of what we want to do in life. I had the chance to get to know most of the other students who all have great stories to tell and are uniquely talented in their own ways.

Also, I really have to thank Bill Burger of Transportation Corridor Agencies for working with WTS to serve as our wonderful advisor during the four-day academy. He was very helpful throughout the academy, was really interested in learning the same things we all did and took time to really get to know each and every one of us.

The Mobility 21 summit is coming up on Sept. 6. I expect to see some of the same people here at the summit and I also will serve as a moderator for a panel discussion there. Look forward to my post about it early next month.