Port trucks in the neighborhood

The Port of Oakland is sponsoring a community workshop on Saturday at the West Oakland Senior Center (1724 Adeline St.) to discuss the issue of trucking in the neighborhood:

This workshop is an opportunity for the Port of Oakland to share with West Oakland neighbors and residents what changes the Port is making to address community needs around illegally parked trucks, security and safety, air pollution and employment opportunities. The Port is developing a Comprehensive Truck Management plan that will address these issues and to provide solutions on these areas.

How to reserve your space: Call the Port of Oakland’s Community and Customer Relations Hotline at 510-627-1545.

The meeting is this Saturday, October 6 from 11AM – 2PM.

Efforts to address neighborhood truck emissions from Port-related traffic are undoubtedly a good thing. I’d like to see a serious expansion of the diesel truck replacement program (It’s a good step, particularly after recent modifications. But with 2000 trucks going in and out of the Port every year, surely we can find a way to reach more than 80 of them!). Use of GPS monitoring to track traffic movements is another step in the right direction. But neither will solve the problem entirely.

If you read about the recently released EBASE report Taking the Low Road (PDF!) in the newspaper, you might think that an end to independent contracting at the Port is the solution to emission problems.

If only it were so easy. While the report makes a cogent case for the need to address the working conditions of independent contractors, it presents no evidence that solving the labor issue will result in any meaningful reduction of environmental dangers. Advocacy groups like the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports have an irritating habit of conflating air quality issues and working conditions for independent contractor truckers. Certainly the impacts of deregulation on long-haul truckers are a matter of concern. That is a problem that should be addressed. But it is not, as the SF Bay Guardian would have you think, the same problem as air quality. Eliminating independent contracting won’t guarantee cleaner air, it will simply ensure better working conditions for truckers.

What we need to make a significant dent in environmental impacts is another intermodal rail facility. In 2002, the Port of Oakland’s market share among West Coast cargo volume was 13.1%. In 2006, it was 9.2% (PDF!). We have excess capacity that is not being realized primarily because of rail constraints. It is not cost-efficient to truck goods for distances of more than 500 miles, meaning that our rail limits damn the Port of Oakland to serving mainly local markets, while Seattle and Tacoma take business that should be ours.

Reducing the Port’s adverse environmental impacts requires a multi-progned approach, one that targets on both short and long term solutions. It would be a grave error to let immediate concerns about trucking blind us to the other serious issues facing the Port of Oakland.