The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have broken from their Friday routine of delaying the import container fee by one week — and instead postponed it for a month.
The ports, the two busiest in the nation, announced on Friday, July 29, that they would delay implementing by four weeks the fee on ocean carriers whose import containers linger too long at marine terminals.
The assessment would now take place, if necessary, on Aug. 26.
Port officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on why they delayed the fee for longer than usual.
But the Container Dwell Fee has been delayed on an almost weekly basis since it was announced in late October, with the ports citing as the reason progress in reducing the number of containers at the terminals.
The fee was initially set to go into effect on Nov. 1, but the ports quickly delayed doing so until Nov. 15 to give ocean carriers time to voluntarily comply. When Nov. 15 arrived, the ports postponed the fee again, this time by one week.
And they’ve done so every week since then.
But while the ports had seen steady progress in reducing the backlog of aging ships during the pilot program’s first few months, that improvement has often plateaued and frequently worsened through much of this year.
The ports, for example, reported on Friday that they had seen a 26% decline in aging cargo on the docks since the fee was announced — the same as last week. The week before, that percentage was 27%.
But in the last week of May, it was at 50%.
Still, port officials have said, the amount of aging cargo remains much better than before they announced the fee.
Gene Seroka, the executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said during a briefing earlier this week that imports sitting on the docks there have dropped by 29% since Oct. 25, from 95,000 to just over 67,000.
The amount of cargo sitting nine days or longer has dropped by 42%, he added — though the numbers have been rising again, primarily because of outside issues surrounding rail service.
Cargo in that category, Seroka said, has “increased six-fold in the last several months and is not moving off terminals fast enough.”
With inland rail hubs now overcrowded with cargo, rail boxes are waiting an average of seven days to be loaded at the port, he said, “three times as long as normal dwell times earlier this year.”
Officials from both ports, meanwhile, will again monitor and reassess over the next month whether to implement the fee.
The fee, if implemented, would begin at $100 per container, increasing by $100 per container each day. Containers set to be transported by truck and rail would incur fines if they remain at the port for nine days or more.
The fee is one of several efforts aimed at speeding the processing of cargo at the San Pedro Port Complex to eliminate a backlog of ships that began when cargo started surging into the ports during the second half of 2020. The ports have regularly broken cargo records since then.
Despite the ports continually holding off on implementing it, the fee has been extended multiple times after initially being set to last 90 days.
Earlier this month, the LA and Long Beach harbor commissions extended the fee until Oct. 27.
Fees collected from the policy, if it ever goes into effect, would be reinvested into programs that aim to enhance efficiency, accelerate cargo velocity and address congestion impacts.
City News Service and staff writer Donna Littlejohn contributed to this report.