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FAST Act November 18, 2016 - Minutes

OVERVIEW

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act, P.L. 114-94; Dec. 4, 2015), Section 6018 (codified at 49 USC 6314), directed the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) to implement a Port Performance Freight Statistics Program (PPFSP) on behalf of U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT). As part of this Program, Section 6018 requires BTS to develop nationally consistent performance measures for, at minimum, the Nation’s top 25 ports by tonnage, 20-foot equivalent unit (TEU), and dry bulk. Section 6018 also directs BTS to establish a Port Performance Freight Statistics Working Group (Working Group) to provide recommendations for specifications and data measurements for port performance measures, and for a process to collect them.  

The fourth meeting of the Working Group convened on November 18, 2016, at the U.S. DOT Headquarters building in Washington, D.C.  Working Group Chair, Dr. Tom Wakeman, of Stevens Institute of Technology (SIT), and Working Group Vice-Chair, Ms. Rebecca Yackley, of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC), presided over the meeting.

In accordance with the provisions of Public Law 92-463, the meeting was open to the public from 9:00 AM to its adjournment at 12:00 PM.

WORKING GROUP MEMBERS PRESENT

The following members were present:

  • Mr. David Adam, U.S. Maritime Alliance, Ltd.
  • Mr. Edwin Ferris, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10
  • Mr. John Giorgis, Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
  • Mr. John Gray, American Association of Railroads (AAR)
  • Mr. Roger Guenther, Port of Houston, TX
  • Mr. Don Marcus, International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots (MM&P), ILA/AFL-CIO
  • Mr. Jeffrey Pavlak, Transportation Trades Department (TTD), AFL-CIO
  • Mr. Michael Podue, ILWU
  • Mr. Darrell Ruban, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
  • Dr. Mindy Shalaby, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
  • Dr. Thomas Wakeman III, SIT (Working Group Chair)
  • Mr. Curtis Whalen, American Trucking Associations (ATA)
  • Ms. Rebecca Yackley, SLSDC (Working Group Vice-Chair)
  • Dr. Allison Yoh, Port of Long Beach (California)

STAFF PRESENT

Several staff from BTS and the Volpe Center were in attendance:

  • Mr. Matthew Chambers, BTS
  • Mr. Daniel Hackett, Hackett Associates (contractor to Volpe)
  • Ms. Pat Hu, BTS
  • Ms. Alisa Fine, Volpe
  • Ms. Lydia Rainville, Volpe
  • Mr. Pepper Santalucia, Digital iBiz (contractor to Volpe)
  • Dr. Rolf Schmitt, BTS
  • Mr. Dan Smith, The Tioga Group, Inc. (contractor to Volpe)
  • Mr. Mike Sprung, BTS

MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC PRESENT

Members of the public present for the meeting or a portion of it were:[1]

  • Dr. Marin Kress, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
  • Mr. Doug McDonald, U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD)
  • Mr. Nick Weiner, International Brotherhood of Teamsters

WELCOME AND APPROVAL OF MEETING MINUTES

Dr. Wakeman, of SIT (the Working Group’s Chair) welcomed Working Group members to the meeting and provided an overview of the meeting’s agenda.

Dr. Wakeman asked the Working Group to review the minutes from the October meeting. There was a motion to accept the minutes, which was seconded. The minutes were approved unanimously.

Dr. Wakeman then summarized for the Working Group the findings of a recent report by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) titled West Coast Ports: Better Supply Chain Information Could Improve DOT's Freight Efforts (Better Supply Chain Information). He suggested that the GAO’s recommendations could have some bearing on the Working Group’s recommendations to BTS.

In the Better Supply Chain Information report, GAO recommended that when developing a freight data strategy, U.S. DOT should include a specific plan to identify:

1)      Appropriate freight data sources, information, and analytic tools for transportation modes involved in the freight network and supply chains;

2)      Data gaps that could help U.S. DOT, and State and local government agencies, in the development of their freight plans, as well as an approach for addressing obstacles to developing high-quality, reliable supply chain information;

3)      Current and planned efforts that can provide insights into supply chains and their impacts on freight networks; and

4)      How U.S. DOT plans to use the supply chain information and analytical tools to inform freight planning and programming.[2]

Dr. Wakeman also said that the Working Group can, with its own recommendations to BTS, help U.S. DOT address the first two elements of a freight data plan, as recommended by GAO.

DISCUSSION OF DRAFT RECOMMENDATIONS

Dr. Wakeman opened discussion on the draft recommendations that were shared with the Working Group membership prior to the November meeting.[3]  Members were provided with a voting worksheet for reference during the discussion.  

1. Draft Recommendations on Data Sources

Draft Recommendation 1A

Draft recommendation 1A stated that BTS should use USACE Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center (WCSC) data to generate lists of the top 25 ports by TEU, tonnage, and dry bulk.

Dr. Yoh, of the Port of Long Beach, noted that due to methodological issues, the USACE TEU data will be different from what the Port of Long Beach itself presents via media outlets.

Mr. Giorgis, of FTA, noted that the Working Group had discussed at prior meetings expanding the port lists beyond the top 25—as specified in FAST Act Section 6018—based on natural breaks in the data. He asked why this option was not included in the draft recommendations. Dr. Wakeman said that expanding the lists beyond the top 25 ports was not adopted as a draft recommendation because some Working Group members were uncomfortable going beyond what Congress requested in FAST Act Section 6018.

Mr. McDonald, of MARAD, clarified that the data sources referenced in draft recommendation 1A would be used to populate the top 25 port lists, and not necessarily used to report on the selected port performance metrics. There were no objections to Mr. McDonald’s statement.

Dr. Wakeman asked the Working Group members to mark their worksheets with a “yes” or “no" vote for this draft recommendation. 

Draft Recommendation 1B

Draft recommendation 1B stated that BTS should provide technical notes to accompany the top 25 port lists to emphasize that the composition of the lists is subject to change as data are updated.

There were no comments offered on this draft recommendation. Dr. Wakeman asked the Working Group members to mark their worksheets.

2. Draft Recommendations on Nationally Consistent Capacity Metrics

Draft Recommendation 2A

Draft recommendation 2A stated that BTS should conduct further analysis of the national utility of capacity metrics. 

Draft Recommendation 2B

Draft recommendation 2B stated that BTS should clarify in the first annual report, at a minimum, that port capacity (and throughput) are influenced by many factors, only some of which are within a port’s control.

Draft Recommendation 2C

Draft recommendation 2C stated that, in the absence of nationally consistent information on capacity metrics for port performance, BTS should identify and report on capacity proxies in the first PPFSP Annual Report.

Mr. Marcus, of MM&P, AFL-CIO, and Mr. Pavlak, of TTD, expressed concern about the Working Group going beyond the statute that created the Working Group.

Dr. Wakeman asked if Working Group members objected to BTS addressing capacity, in any shape or form, in the Annual Report. No objections were voiced.

Mr. Whalen, of ATA, said that the Working Group had in previous meetings discussed the difficulty of measuring port capacity at the national level. He said that BTS should consider in the first Annual Report focuses on exploring what difficulties are involved in measuring capacity in a nationally consistent manner. He suggested that the first Annual Report could emphasize that it establishes a foundation that future PPFSP reports can build on over time.

Mr. Ferris, of ILWU, stated that he respectfully disagreed with Mr. Whalen’s comment. He said that he opposed going beyond the Working Group’s mandate as established by Congress in the FAST Act.

Dr. Wakeman asked Ms. Yackley whether she believed that draft recommendations 2A, 2B, and 2C were within the mandate of the Working Group, as established in the FAST Act. Ms. Yackley said that she thought that draft recommendation 2C probably exceeded the mandate.

Mr. Marcus said that draft recommendation 2C is overly vague in referring to proxy measures for capacity. He added that the term capacity itself can mean many different things, and that the use of the term “proxies” also made the recommendation unclear.

Mr. Smith, of The Tioga Group, said that the Working Group could clarify what is meant by proxy measures for capacity. He said that the initial intent in using the term “proxy” was to indicate that there are no well-developed, nationally consistent sources to derive measures of overall port capacity; as a result, the best available substitute is to report information on port infrastructure, which does have nationally consistent data sources and is more readily accessible. The implicit assumption behind using infrastructure as a proxy capacity metric is that more extensive infrastructure is generally associated with more capacity.  

Dr. Wakeman stated that BTS should address capacity in some way in the Annual Report since doing so is mandated in FAST Act Section 6018. He also commented that the Working Group did not appear to voice any major objections to including draft recommendations 2A and 2B.

Mr. Whalen said that he did not see any conflicts between draft recommendations 2A, 2B, and 2C and the statutory language that created the Working Group.

Mr. Marcus reiterated that he thought recommendation 2C went beyond the mandate.

Mr. Pavlak said that he can support draft recommendation 2B, but that he was uncomfortable with the language in draft recommendations 2A and 2C that call for further analysis and additional resources.

Dr. Wakeman said that his reading of recommendation 2A is that currently available data does not allow for a nationally consistent approach to measuring capacity. He stated that the draft recommendation is for BTS to conduct further analysis in the future on the feasibility of developing capacity metrics that have national utility.

Mr. McDonald said that reporting on a capacity proxy could be construed as going outside the scope of the Working Group’s congressional mandate. He suggested that the Working Group remove the phrase “and report on” from draft recommendation 2C.

Mr. Smith said that the Working Group may be confusing two different issues. The first issue is that port infrastructure can serve as a useful proxy for capacity at this point in time, given there are nationally consistent and readily available data for port infrastructure. The second issue is whether the Working Group wants to recommend that BTS explore additional measures in the future.

Dr. Wakeman asked for the Working Group members to mark their worksheets on draft recommendations 2A, 2B, and 2C and suggest proposed revisions to the language if desired.

3. Draft Recommendations on Nationally Consistent Throughput Metrics

Draft Recommendation 3A

Draft recommendation 3A stated that BTS should use annual TEUs as a core throughput metric for containers.

Draft Recommendation 3B

Draft recommendation 3B stated that BTS should use short tons as a core throughput metric for dry bulk and other tonnage.

Draft Recommendation 3C

Draft recommendation 3C stated that BTS should conduct further analysis to consider including the following in future Annual Reports of:

  • Quarterly or seasonal trade data  
  • Value of domestic cargo moving through ports 
  • Revenue TEUs
  • Rail throughput metrics 
  • Modes used (e.g., rail, truck, barge, etc.) to bring goods to or from a ports (for both volume and tonnage)

Mr. Marcus said that he was uncomfortable with draft recommendation 3C, which he stated was too open-ended.

Mr. Giorgis asked if any of the Working Group members objected to looking at cargo value rather than cargo weight and volume.

Mr. Gray, of AAR, said that he could not support the use of a cargo value metric because this would not say anything about the physical requirements to handle freight. He supported the possible use of revenue TEUs as a metric, noting that that this may be useful for distinguishing full versus empty containers.          

Dr. Wakeman asked for the Working Group members to mark their worksheets and said that they could feel free to delete or add to the recommendations, as desired.

4. Draft Recommendations on BTS Collection and Reporting of Data

Draft Recommendation 4A.

Draft recommendation 4A stated that for the Annual Reports, BTS should:

  • Include data on the latest year available;
  • Conduct further analysis to assess whether moving averages or longer-term trends could be included; and
  • Include metrics limited to those that assess performance issues that are within a port’s control; additional analysis could be done to examine whether other issues should be addressed (e.g., vessel on-time performance).

Mr. Whalen referenced a letter submitted to BTS by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and said that he wished to associate himself with those comments. He added that he did not think that it was necessary to limit the PPFSP to looking only at issues within a port’s control. As an example, he mentioned that chassis availability is important to port performance even if it is not within total control of ports.

Dr. Yoh agreed that it could be helpful to look at issues that are beyond a port’s control, such as vessel on-time performance, since this would help paint a fuller picture of what is happening at ports.

Dr. Wakeman said that he thought that there was general consensus among Working Group members on this draft recommendation. He asked the Working Group members to mark their worksheets and indicate any suggested edits or revisions to the recommendation language. 

Draft Recommendation 4B

Draft recommendation 4B stated that BTS should further analyze whether data collected more frequently than annually would have national utility and should be included in future annual reports to Congress.

Dr. Yoh said that the issue of more frequent reporting came up during previous Working Group meetings. She said that more frequent reporting might be useful to support operational decisions at the terminal level or a port level, but she asked whether this would be relevant at a national level.

Mr. Gray said that he can think of many things that could be reported more frequently than annually but that the Working Group has yet to get a clear understanding of how this information would be used. On that basis, he said that he is reluctant to expand the reporting frequency beyond annual reporting.

Mr. Whalen said that the draft recommendation recommends that BTS consider more frequent reporting. He added that BTS could conclude that more frequent reporting is not worth the effort. He suggested that the Working Group not close the door in its recommendation to preclude BTS from considering this issue.   

Mr. Pavlak and Mr. Podue, of ILWU, said that there had been considerable effort during the legislative process that resulted in the Working Group’s creation to remove any requirement on reporting more frequently than annually. They said that they were opposed to this draft recommendation.

Dr. Wakeman proposed deleting this draft recommendation. No objections were voiced.

Draft Recommendation 4C

Draft recommendation 4C stated that BTS should consider how to make any data collected as part of the PPFSP more widely accessible.

Based on a brief discussion among the Working Group members on existing Federal rules and policies regarding open data, Dr. Wakeman proposed deleting this draft recommendation. No objections were voiced.

Draft Recommendation 4D

Draft recommendation 4D stated that BTS should consider how to limit burdens on industry if it intends to require the port industry to provide information on a regular basis.

Mr. Giorgis noted that the Paperwork Reduction Act already requires the Federal government to consider any burden imposed by its information collection and reporting activities on private industry and citizens.

Dr. Wakeman proposed deleting this draft recommendation. No objections were voiced.  

5. Other Recommendations

Draft Recommendation 5A

Draft recommendation 5A stated that BTS should consider including in its Annual Reports a series of “spotlight” issues to provide general context for trends that may affect port capacity and throughput but for which there is currently no nationally consistent data.

Mr. Marcus stated that he felt this recommendation was open-ended and vague and that it exceeded the Working Group’s statutory mandate.

Mr. Gray said that he had no problem with the general concept of including spotlight issues in the Annual Reports, but he said that if the Working Group submits this recommendation to BTS, it should also recommend that BTS recruit or retain expertise to address these issues properly.

Mr. Whalen said that his recollection was that the spotlight issues were proposed as a way to bypass disagreements about what the annual reports should include. He added that BTS can decide whether to include these issues in future reports. He recommended that the Working Group retain the recommendation.

Dr. Wakeman said that the recommendation should include the phrase “but not limited to” prior to the list of examples of spotlight issues included in the recommendation.

Dr. Wakeman asked the Working Group members to mark their worksheets.

Draft Recommendation 5B

Draft recommendation 5B stated that BTS should conduct further analysis to assess the national utility of additional performance-related metrics and potential approaches for developing nationally consistent datasets that are useful for assessing port performance. Four examples were listed: truck turn times; road/rail connectivity; rail and truck throughput; and vessel dwell time.

Mr. Whalen noted that this is the only recommendation that specifically mentions truck turn times. He commented that the issue of truck turn times had been addressed at all of the port-related meetings that he has attended during the last year or more, and is a recurring theme in many industry discussions. He said that if a port has truck turn time data, BTS should include this in the Annual Reports, even if the information is not nationally consistent. Mr. Whalen also referenced the recent comment from the NRF, which he said proposed changes to this draft recommendation.

Mr. Pavlak suggested that if a performance measure does not yet have an associated source of nationally consistent data, then it should not be included as part of the PPFSP. He added that his organization has no interest in the metrics listed in draft recommendation 5B.

Mr. Podue of agreed with Mr. Pavlak and asserted that the Federal Maritime Commission and the Department of Commerce are working to address truck turn time issues. 

Mr. Ferris said that he did not see the national utility of the performance metrics listed in draft recommendation 5B and so opposed the inclusion of this recommendation.

Mr. Guenther, of the Port of Houston, said that there is difference between developing a nationally consistent dataset versus a nationally comparable dataset. As an example, he said that truck turn times could be measured consistently from port to port and terminal to terminal, but that would not mean that is appropriate to compare truck turn times across terminals or across ports. 

Mr. Whalen said that he agreed with Mr. Guenther’s comment. He added that it should be possible to indicate whether truck turn times are improving or worsening at a given port or terminal.

Dr. Wakeman said that it is not mutually exclusive to have nationally consistent data and data that are of utility at a local level. He asked the Working Group members to mark their worksheets.

Draft Recommendation 5C

Draft recommendation 5C stated that if the Working Group continues to meet after submitting its recommendations, BTS should consider expanding the membership of the current Working Group to include additional port and industry stakeholders that could expand the Working Group’s expertise.

Working Group members discussed whether the Working Group currently includes any representatives of ocean carriers or marine terminal operators. Mr. Guenther noted that the Port of Houston is an operating port and therefore the port authority is an operator of marine terminals. He added that he was not sure if he was appointed to the Working Group as a representative of a port authority or as a terminal operator. Mr. Adam noted that his organization represents both ocean carriers and marine terminal operators.

Dr. Wakeman proposed deleting this draft recommendation. No objections were voiced.

Draft Recommendation 5D

Draft recommendation 5D stated that BTS should identify approaches for developing nationally consistent data definitions and standards that would be useful in assessing port performance. The draft recommendation stated that this might involve convening another working group to advise BTS.

Dr. Yoh said that from a planning perspective, she sees value in continuing conversations about port performance and how to improve it. Dr. Wakeman agreed with Dr. Yoh and added that BTS may want to create another advisory body.

Mr. Ferris, Mr. Marcus, and Mr. Pavlak stated that the second sentence regarding creation of another working group was unnecessary and redundant and thus it should be removed.

Mr. Giorgis said that he supported retaining the recommendation because it clarified that a different body could be created other than this Working Group.

Dr. Yoh said that she did not see any danger in being redundant. She added that if the Working Group thought something was important to reiterate, it is acceptable to be redundant.

Dr. Wakeman asked the Working Group members to mark their worksheets.

DISCUSSION OF DRAFT RECOMMENDATIONS COVER LETTER

Dr. Wakeman asked the Working Group for comments or proposed edits to the draft cover letter provided to the Working Group members.  There were no comments on the first three of four paragraphs of the draft cover letter.

Dr. Wakeman specifically asked for feedback on the last sentence in the draft cover letter, which stated in part that “…BTS consider convening an advisory committee in the future to assist with further development of metrics and data collection to improve the U.S. freight transportation system.”

Several Working Group members asked BTS staff about the duration of the group’s appointments and the duration of the Working Group itself. BTS Director Hu observed that the members of the Working Group were asked to give a two-year commitment. Mr. Chambers stated that the Working Group’s charter terminates two years after it was filed, in March 2018.

Dr. Schmitt said that the Working Group’s charter is for two years, and its mandate is to provide recommendations to BTS in short order. However, he said that the Working Group could reconvene in the future if it so desired, and BTS would be happy to receive from the group any additional considerations. He added that the Working Group could look at the first Annual Report, once finalized and released for public consumption, and at that point decide whether to reconvene. 

Mr. Marcus and Mr. Pavlak said that the Working Group should not include any recommendation or language that opens the door to ongoing duties. Mr. Pavlak added that there are other Federal Advisory Committees with a focus on freight transportation or the supply chain, so it is hard for him to understand why this particular body needs to continue to meet. They were joined by Mr. Ferris in proposing elimination of the last sentence in the draft cover letter.

Mr. Gray disagreed and asserted that there were very few people in the room who actually collect and use data on port performance. He said that if BTS will need more advice in the future, it is likely that it will need advice around technical issues with data and what the data mean. He suggested that BTS may want or need input from those who actually collect and use data on port performance.

Mr. Gray said he was reluctant to suggest a mandate for a future advisory group as expansive as that articulated in the draft cover letter. He suggested that the mandate of any such group should focus on ports and not the entire U.S. freight transportation system. Dr. Wakeman responded that the Working Group could replace the phrase “U.S. freight transportation system” with “port performance.”

Dr. Yoh suggested that the Working Group had met its mandate, but it had also documented why measuring port performance is a difficult matter. She said that she did not see why the Working Group could not stress the importance of continuing to keep a focus on port performance and highlighting the role of ports in the U.S. freight transportation system.

Mr. Ruban, of FMCSA, said that the Working Group had only been given a short amount of time to develop its recommendations. He suggested that it would be valuable for the Working Group to have an opportunity to reconvene in the future and revisit its recommendations.  

Dr. Wakeman suggested that integrity of the Working Group would be compromised if it were to meet without those who had expressed opposition to continuing the Working Group.

Mr. Whalen stated that there will likely be future Congressional hearings on port performance and truck turn times. He said that it may be valuable for BTS to have the Working Group as an advisory body at those times.

Mr. Pavlak and Mr. Marcus suggested that the last sentence in the draft cover letter could be deleted without precluding the possibility of the Working Group reconvening.

PUBLIC COMMENTS

An opportunity was provided for public comments, but none were offered. Mr. Chambers noted the written comments provided by Jonathan Gold on behalf of the NRF.

RECAP AND NEXT STEPS

Dr. Wakeman thanked the Working Group members for their participation and thanked BTS and Volpe staff for their efforts. He asked the Working Group members to put their names on their worksheets so they could be tabulated. He added that the deadline for submitting the worksheets is November 22, 2016.

ADJOURNMENT

The meeting adjourned at 12:00 PM.

I hereby certify that, to the best of my knowledge, the foregoing minutes are accurate and complete.

Thomas Wakeman, III

Chair, Port Performance Freight Statistics Working Group

Stevens Institute of Technology

These minutes will be formally considered by the Working Group, and any corrections or notations will be incorporated into the final minutes.

[1] Additional members of the public may have been present but did not sign in for the meeting.

[2] GAO, West Coast Ports: Better Supply Chain Information Could Improve DOT's Freight Efforts, GAO-17-23, published Oct 31, 2016, available at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-17-23 as of December 1(link is external), 2016. 

[3] The observations and highlights presented do not necessarily reflect a consensus view of the Working Group as a whole. 

Updated: Wednesday, July 26, 2017