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2 big haulers accept L.A. port's clean-truck criteria

August 22, 2008|Ronald D. White and Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writers

The Port of Los Angeles' clean-truck replacement effort received a significant boost Thursday when two Arizona-based freight haulers signed letters of intent to participate in the program.

Both the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach have provoked opposition from the American Trucking Assn. over their plans to replace the aging fleet of about 16,800 mostly dilapidated rigs that produce a large portion of the diesel pollution at the nation's busiest cargo container complex.

The association, which represents 37,000 trucking companies, has filed suit in federal court to block the plans, arguing that they would impose "intrusive regulatory systems" that would "result in far fewer trucking companies being able to service the ports."

The Port of Los Angeles plan would require the formation of concessions, companies that would employ some of the thousands of drivers who now operate as independent owner-operators. That is part of what prompted the ATA lawsuit, which seeks an injunction against the concession requirement.

But the potential participation of the two Phoenix-based companies -- Swift Transportation Co., with 37 major terminals in 26 states and Mexico, and the publicly traded Knight Transportation Inc., with nearly half of its fleet consisting of 2008 model trucks -- was seen as a significant development. Both are members of the ATA.

"It's a big deal, a major breakthrough," said John Husing, an Inland Empire-based economist and a logistics and supply chain expert who was called on to evaluate the port's truck replacement plan.

Paul Bingham, managing director of trade and transportation markets for economic research firm Global Insight, said, "These are both well-known, national trucking companies. They are very serious players."

ATA leaders had no immediate comment on the development. But some California trucking companies were irate over the idea that two ATA members, both based outside California, were signing on to the program -- and potentially putting them out of business.

"I'm taken aback. Now, they are going to out-of-state companies rather than dealing with California trucking businesses that have been hauling cargo in and out of the ports for the past 25 to 30 years," said Michael Lightman, owner of Long Beach-based Great Freight Inc., which does 99% of its business moving goods to and from the ports.

Others, though, were pleased by the development.

"It shows that the Los Angeles plan is attractive and trucking companies are biting," said Adrian Martinez, projects manager with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental justice group that supports the program.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement, "These commitments are proof that environmental, labor and business leaders agree that our plan will deliver the cleanest trucks for the long haul."

The two Arizona companies said that the letters of intent made sense because both already had customers who moved goods through the ports and had expressed concerns about their ability to get their products delivered promptly.

"We have 1,400 trucks equipped with the newest diesel technology. The ports have a need for clean trucks and we have customers that need that service," said Kevin Knight, chief executive of Knight Transportation. "I think it's a good fit."

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ron.white@latimes.com

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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