ID logjam

Drivers entering maritime ports to pick up or deliver cargo may be forced to carry dozens of identification cards a different one for each facility costing them and their fleets time and money. In addition, some drivers with prior criminal records may not qualify for the ID cards, barring them from some facilities. In Florida, for example, which just enacted a port security law, each of its 14 ports

Drivers entering maritime ports to pick up or deliver cargo may be forced to carry dozens of identification cards — a different one for each facility — costing them and their fleets time and money. In addition, some drivers with prior criminal records may not qualify for the ID cards, barring them from some facilities.

In Florida, for example, which just enacted a port security law, each of its 14 ports has different criteria for entry and issues its own ID card to drivers. “Our drivers could end up with a handful of IDs for the ports they service,” says Dave Shamblin, vp-finance and administration for Commercial Carrier Corp., Auburndale, FL. Each port requires a different application and each demands a processing fee. “The card applications cost anywhere from $50 to $100…That's a lot of money.”

Shamblin and other carrier officials are working through the Florida Trucking Assn. to bring some uniformity to the card system. While Shamblin thinks ID cards are a good idea because they keep ports safe and enable drivers to get through more quickly, he also thinks having to apply separately for each port is overkill. What he and others would like to see is one card that covers all ports in a state.

But this may not be practical since ports fall under multiple jurisdictions. Some are run by the federal government, some by states or local governments and some are privately-owned. In addition, each port has a different security profile. For example, a port that handles petroleum maintains higher security than one that doesn't.

One solution is to certify drivers for the highest security level so they would qualify for those of lower status — but that creates another problem. Convicted felons may not be allowed to enter a high-security port, but might be eligible to enter a port with less stringent security.

This has become an issue on the West Coast, where the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach want to require ID cards after running criminal background checks, as well as fingerprint drivers and dockworkers. Unions opposes the checks, fearing that employees with criminal records would lose their jobs.

Some industry officials would like to see a national port entry ID card. “There's a lack of a cohesive nationwide security plan,” says Bill Wanamaker, director of intermodal and government operations for the American Trucking Assns. He and other industry officials are hoping that they can influence pending federal legislation to include such a card. The “Port, Maritime and Rail Security Act of 2001,” passed by the Senate last December, would put the federal government in charge of regulating security at the nation's 361 ports. It would not preempt local control of ports, but subject them to federal oversight. The House has not yet acted on the bill.

One idea being floated is a national CDL that would not only identify the driver as a competent commercial operator but serve as a security ID card for entry to transfer facilities such as maritime ports, airports and railroad yards. The largest roadblock is the government's reluctance to meddle in what has traditionally been state and local jurisdiction. Transportation Sec. Norman Mineta has repeatedly said the government won't preempt states in this matter. It would take an act of Congress to change it, and a states' rights battle in the Supreme Court. would likely follow. Whatever Congress does, it must move quickly. Ports will face increasing pressure to move cargo more quickly as the U.S. Customs Service puts the finishing touches on plans for its “fast lanes” program, which would speed cargo through seaports and border crossings.

Unless truck drivers have a quick way of secured entry and exit, the trucking industry may become the next transportation bottleneck, and just-in-time deliveries will be jeopardized. “To keep our economy growing, we must keep costs down; you can't do just-in-time while you're waiting in line,” says Wanamaker.

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