California port plan

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The port of Long Beach in California is pushing ahead with an aggressive truck replacement plan that got the green light last month - a plan that seeks to replace a large chunk of the 16,800 diesel-powered tractors serving the port with models equipped with 2007-compliant engines or fueled with liquefied natural gas (LNG).


The port‘s Clean Trucks Program - which got the go-ahead Feb. 19 this year - is designed to slash truck-related air pollution by 80% within five years. “This truck program is a major step forward for cleaner air,” said Richard Steinke, executive director for the port of Long Beach. “Getting these old, dirty trucks off the road will deliver major air quality improvements for the entire region.”


It‘s sister facility, the port of Los Angeles, is also forging ahead with a similar plan, he noted.


Starting on October 1 this year, the port is going to ban pre-1989 trucks from operating on its premises. By January 1, 2010, all 1989 through 1993 model trucks will be banned from the port‘s terminals, along with non-retrofitted 1994 through 2003 model trucks. The final step comes on January 1, 2012, when any trucks that do not meet the 2007 federal emission standards will be banned from port of Long Beach terminals.


The Port plans to start granting five-year concessions to licensed motor carriers (LMCs) for a one-time application fee of $250 and $100 per truck each year if those operators meet several key requirements, including using trucks that meet the port‘s “clean truck” standards, use drivers that meet security requirements including enrollment in the federal Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program, and tag their vehicles with radio-frequency identification devices so the port of long beach can monitor engine compliance with air quality standards.


However, the port stressed that truck owners are going to be offered a variety of financial incentives to upgrade their vehicles.


The first is a lease-to-own program, whereby an applicant can exchange an older truck for a pre-approved new truck under a 7-year lease agreement for a monthly lease payment between $500 and $700, with the port augmenting the lease payments with monthly stipends of $800 to $1,400, along with prepaid maintenance. At the end of the lease term, the port noted it would provide a 50% ($7,000 - $15,000) subsidy towards the purchase of the truck for the lessee.


For truck owners seeking to buy an new, pre-approved cleaner truck model, the port plans to offer grants of $60,000 to $75,000 for a clean diesel truck, with $90,000 to $120,000 for LNG or other alternative fueled truck, with prepaid maintenance also provided via another upfront grant.


Trucker owners that wish to retrofit their vehicles to lower pollution levels can also receive financial help, via one-time grants of as much as $20,000 towards the purchase of retrofit equipment for model year 1994 - 2003 trucks in 2008 and 2009.


Money to provide for all of these grants and subsidies is expected to come largely from a new “Clean Trucks Fee” of $35 levied on every loaded twenty-foot equivalent container unit (TEU) that arrives by ocean carrier starting this October, along with funds from California‘s newly passed Proposition 1B transportation bond. The fee - which should generate about $1.6 billion, the port estimates - does not apply to containerized cargo moving through the port by train, it noted.


So, is this program the bellwether of future efforts by ports, cities, and states to reduce air pollution? Will it ultimately be affordable for truckers larger and small, even with the generous subsidies being offered? That remains to be seen. One thing is for certain - the clock is now ticking on this program, meaning truckers at the port must deal with it now or risk big disruptions in their business at year‘s end.

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