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PPFSWG October 21, 2016 - Minutes

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


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 third meeting of the Working Group convened on October 21, 2016, at the U.S. DOT Headquarters building in Washington, D.C.  Working Group Chair, Dr. Tom Wakeman, of Stevens Institute of Technology, and Working Group Vice-Chair, Ms. Rebecca Yackley, of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC), presided over the meeting. Ms. Anne Aylward, Director of U.S. DOT’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe), facilitated 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 3:00 PM.


The following members were present:

  • Mr. David Adam, U.S. Maritime Alliance, Ltd.
  • Ms. Lauren Brand, Maritime Administration (MARAD)
  • Mr. Dennis Daggett, International Longshoremen's Association (ILA)
  • Mr. John Giorgis, Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
  • Mr. Jonathan Gold, National Retail Federation (NRF)
  • Ms. Michelle Livingstone, The Home Depot
  • Mr. Luis Loarte, Federal Aviation Administration
  • Mr. Andrew Lynn, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
  • Mr. Don Marcus, International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, ILA/AFL-CIO
  • Mr. Jeffrey Pavlak, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD)
  • Mr. Michael Podue, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)
  • Ms. Caitlin Hughes Rayman, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
  • Mr. Darrell Ruban, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
  • Mr. Eugene Seroka, Port of Los Angeles (California)
  • Dr. Mindy Shalaby, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
  • Dr. Thomas Wakeman III, Stevens Institute of Technology (Working Group Chair)
  • Mr. Curtis Whalen, American Trucking Associations (ATA)
  • Bill Wiatrowski, Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Mr. Dennis Wilmsmeyer, Americas Central Port (ACP)
  • Ms. Rebecca Yackley, SLSDC (Working Group Vice-Chair)
  • Dr. Allison Yoh, Port of Long Beach (California)


Several staff from the U.S. DOT Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R), BTS, and the Volpe Center were in attendance:

  • Ms. Anne Aylward, Volpe
  • 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 for the meeting or a portion of it were:

  • Mr. Paul Bea, Jr., PHB Public Affairs
  • Ms. Jess Dankert, Retail Industry Leaders Association
  • Ms. Anna Denecke, Blakely & Agnew (on behalf of the Intermodal Association of North America)
  • Dr. Marin Kress, USACE
  • Ms. Robin Lanier, National Retail Federation
  • Ms. Susan Monteverde, American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA)
  • Mr. John Young, AAPA


Ms. Hu, Director of BTS, welcomed Working Group members to the meeting and announced that Mr. Iwasaki had stepped down as the Chair of the Working Group. She introduced Dr. Thomas Wakeman, III, as the new Chair.

Ms. Hu also notified the Working Group that a straw preliminary draft of the Working Group’s recommendations to BTS had been developed. She said that Working Group members would have an opportunity to review and comment on the straw preliminary draft recommendations later in the day.


Ms. Aylward, of Volpe, welcomed Dr. Wakeman, of the Stevens Institute of Technology, as the new Chair and provided an overview of the meeting’s agenda. She then provided a brief overview of each of the meeting’s sessions.     


Ms. Yackley, of SLDC (the Vice-Chair of the Working Group), asked Working Group members if they wanted to revise the September 23rd meeting minutes. Mr. Giorgis, of FTA, noted that he attended the September meeting but is not listed in the minutes as being in attendance. There was an additional request for the minutes to use the title of “Dr.” for those Working Group members with Ph.D. degrees. The minutes were approved with these changes by a unanimous vote.

Ms. Yackley asked the Working Group members if any of them had concerns with the proposed work plan. Ms. Brand, of MARAD, asked whether the Working Group would be able to produce a quorum for the next scheduled meeting on Friday, November 18th. A show of hands by Working Group members indicated that a quorum of members would be present. The work plan was approved unanimously and the meeting date was unchanged.

Dr. Wakeman said that the Working Group’s primary task is to develop recommendations for BTS’ consideration as part of the PPFSP. He suggested that the measure of the Working Group’s success would be how many of the recommendations that BTS chooses to accept. Ms. Hu responded that BTS will accept and evaluate all of the Working Group’s recommendations. She added that BTS wants to develop a credible and trustworthy statistics program, and that BTS has criteria for national consistency and data quality that will toned to be applied to any of the Working Group’s recommendations. Ms. Hu also noted that implementation cost would be another consideration.


Mr. Chambers, of BTS, presented information on the first Annual Report that BTS is required to submit to Congress by January 15, 2017; the draft of this report is now underway. He noted that the report would not be publicly released until March 2017, due to a mandatory “hold” for 45 days after submission to Congress.

Mr. Chambers then presented draft lists of the nation’s top ports by TEUs, dry bulk, and tonnage. He said that, per a previous suggestion by Working Group members, BTS staff had examined the port list data to determine whether any “natural breaks” existed. This analysis resulted in lists of 27 ports for TEUs, 25 ports for dry bulk, and 26 ports for tonnage (there were just over 50 unique ports across the three lists, as some ports appeared more than once).

The Working Group then discussed a mock-up port profile, representing a potential draft profile that would be included in the first Annual Report to Congress. BTS staff indicated that it would like to learn about potential sources for images and maps of the ports to potentially include in the profiles. Ms. Tujague, of USACE, stated that USACE has a GIS layer with port-specific information, but it is limited to the waterside of the ports.

Ms. Aylward asked whether each port profile would indicate how the port is governed or administered, and might include information such as port tenants. She suggested that if governance information is not included in the profiles, it should be addressed more generally in the report content. Mr. Chambers responded that port governance would be addressed at a high level in the body of the report. He also stated that the Working Group could consider making a formal recommendation to BTS to include governance information as part of the port profiles in future reports.

Dr. Yoh asked if each port would have an opportunity to review its profile. Mr. Chambers responded that in order to deliver the first Annual Report to Congress by January 2017, as required in the FAST Act, BTS would likely not be able to accommodate a period for all ports to review all elements of their profiles. He noted that future reports could include this type of review. Dr. Yoh also asked about the “number of berths” elements included in the mock-up port profile. She noted that developing a consistent measure to assess number of berths can be complicated; less complicated is developing a figure for “total length of berth.” Mr. Smith stated that for the first Annual Report to Congress, BTS staff intends to use data that the ports themselves report to determine number of berths.

Mr. Pavlak asked whether any of the possible spotlight topics discussed in previous Working Group meetings would be included in the first Annual Report. Mr. Chambers responded that the first report would address some of the topics, such as seasonality.

Mr. Giorgis, of FTA, asked whether the profiles should include information about the passenger operations at each port. Dr. Shalaby, of PHMSA, added that PHMSA is interested in proximity of cargo operations to passenger activities (particularly given transport of potentially hazardous materials). Mr. Chambers said that the Working Group could recommend that this type of information be included in future Annual Reports.

Ms. Rayman, of FHWA, asked if there is any way to document the modes used to bring cargo to a port. Mr. Sprung, of BTS, responded that BTS does not have data at that level of detail, but this information may be helpful.  Mr. Smith added that some, but not all, ports collect data on this activity. Ms. Rayman said that she would like to make sure that this gets added into the Working Group’s recommendations to BTS. Ms. Aylward said that it would be useful to distinguish between freight transported via on-dock rail versus near-dock rail. She also stated that her past experience is that collecting data as part of a statistics program, such as the BTS Port Performance Freight Statistics Program, can spur better data collection.

Mr. Wilmsmeyer, of ACP, said that he did not want to see any more reporting requirements placed upon port districts or their tenants. Ms. Aylward encouraged Working Group members to think about why the Federal government needs to collect each type of data. She suggested that there needs to be a careful balance between collecting data that lead to an understanding of the importance of ports at the national level, and protecting ports’ and their tenants’ proprietary information.

Dr. Wakeman encouraged the Working Group to think about ports as a node in a broader transportation system. He said that if the United States is going to compete with Europe, China, and others, the nation needs to harmonize its data. He suggested that when crafting its recommendations, the Working Group needs to consider what data will be needed five or more years from now.


The Working Group members broke into three breakout groups to review the straw preliminary draft recommendations. These breakout groups were facilitated by Dr. Wakeman, Mr. Ruban, and Dr. Kress.


Following the breakout sessions, the meeting was recessed for lunch.


Following lunch, Dr. Wakeman, Mr. Ruban (of FMCSA), and Dr. Kress (of USACE) provided a summary of the discussions that occurred in the three breakout groups. Key observations and highlights of these discussions included the following (organized according to the three questions posed to Working Group members during the July meeting):1  
How should BTS define different types of ports in terms of tonnage, container, and dry bulk?

  • BTS should use USACE’s definition of a port area (where port limits are defined by legislative enactments of Federal, State, county, or city governments) as well as USACE’s Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center data to generate the lists of top 25 ports by TEU, dry bulk, and tonnage.
  • For the first Annual Report to Congress, BTS should include only the top 25 ports by TEU, dry bulk, and tonnage in the lists, as required by FAST Act Section 6018. In the future, BTS could consider examining where there are “natural data breaks” across these lists to possibly include more than just the top 25 ports.  
  • BTS should consider including information on port governance models as part of the first Annual Report. There may also be value in providing information about how goods enter a port (in terms of what modes are used) as well as modes used to transport goods from the port gate to points in the port’s market-shed (i.e., the geographical area that is some given distance or a number of days of travel time from the port).
  • BTS should consider convening another Working Group in the future to study and develop consistent data definitions and possibly more specific indicators for port performance.
  • In its Annual Report, BTS should acknowledge that liquid bulk/petroleum products can comprise a significant amount of total tonnage moved through some ports.  
  • One breakout group observed that there is no specificity in the FAST Act statutory language that “ports” must touch water, so the PPFSP could address inland ports or “dry ports” in the future (these are intermodal facilities where waterborne cargo can be transferred to road or rail modes to serve inland destinations).

What nationally consistent measures do you recommend for capacity and throughput?


  • Some Working Group members suggested that port capacity metrics would be most meaningful as a way for ports to compare their own performance over time, and would not be as useful at the national level. Given that ports’ physical infrastructure, cargo moved, and other characteristics vary so widely, it may not be particularly meaningful to use highly aggregated, national capacity metrics to compare ports to one another.  
  • BTS should clarify that port capacity and throughput are influenced by an array of factors (e.g., seasonal fluxes in trade, levels of investment, types of cargo moved, presence of intermodal connectors), some of which are within the port’s control and some of which are not.
  • If reporting on channel depth as a proxy for capacity, BTS should use USACE data to identify maximum authorized channel depth and maximum actual (or current) channel depth at ports, at a minimum.
  • BTS should consider collecting bridge height clearance data as a proxy for more direct measures of port capacity.
  • Metrics for container yard design capacity should be further considered/developed and should not be used in BTS’ first Annual Report to Congress.


  • BTS should consider whether the Annual Reports could or should include quarterly or seasonal data.
  • If BTS collects data on the value of domestic cargo moving through ports, this data should be calculated and reported in the same way as is done for the value of international cargo.
  • Rail throughput metrics are worth further consideration by BTS, but it is not clear which entities would be the best sources of this data.
  • Some Working Group members thought it would be valuable for BTS to compile data on the mode used to bring goods to or from a port (e.g., rail, truck, barge, etc.).

Other Measures (e.g., Port Activity/Connectivity)

  • BTS should assess any additional metrics of port activity to ensure that they have national or regional consistency and are nationally consistent.
  • Some Working Group members are in favor of BTS developing a metric for truck turn times, at least from those ports already collecting the data on their own.
  • BTS should consider how to measure or describe the connectivity of ports to other modes (e.g., via road, rail, barge) in its Annual Reports.

How should BTS collect nationally consistent data?

  • BTS should consider that, if asking the port industry to provide data on a regular basis for the PPFSP, compilation of information should not be burdensome. Ideally funding would be available to support any industry data compilation or collection efforts.
  • Some Working Group members suggested limiting to 2015 the year of data included in the first Annual Report to Congress to 2015. If comparing 2015 to previous years’ data, BTS should consider adding additional context about historic events that may have influenced the data (e.g., economic recession).
  • The Working Group would like more information about existing electronic databases used in trade and commerce activities, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s International Trade Data System or Automated Commercial Environment. These may provide examples of models for BTS to consider in the future if requiring regular data compilation/reporting by the port industry.

Other Considerations

  • BTS should not develop metrics to assess availability of container chassis and truck parking, but should instead consider addressing these topics as “spotlight” topics in the Annual Reports.
  • BTS should also consider addressing pipeline connectivity as a spotlight topic.
  • If the Working Group continues to meet after submitting its recommendations to BTS in December 2016, its membership should be expanded to include additional port and industry stakeholders.


Ms. Aylward noted that only two of the three breakout groups suggested including port activity metrics. She also noted that past Working Group discussions have addressed whether these types of metrics have national utility or are more useful for one port to develop and track its own performance time.

Dr. Wakeman suggested that BTS indicate to the Working Group which metrics or data would have national utility. Dr. Schmitt responded that BTS would like to hear the Working Group’s suggestions on this topic. He added that BTS wants to report on data that are meaningful. BTS’ immediate focus for generating the first Annual Report to Congress will be on compiling data that are already publicly available. The first report will provide a foundation for assessing or potentially adding new data and measures in the future, while setting context to increase stakeholders’ general situational awareness of ports. He added that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would need to approve any new data collection efforts.   

Ms. Aylward suggested that the PPFSP presents a significant and important opportunity to educate policymakers, lawmakers, and others about ports.

Ms. Rayman said that she had previously suggested how port performance data could be used in the future, but that she believed the Working Group needs to first prioritize satisfying Congressional requirements. She also noted that U.S. DOT is conducting several related rulemakings on transportation performance measures, including one for freight. She also stated that there is a FAST Act requirement for U.S. DOT to establish a Multimodal Freight Network. Along with the requirement for the PPFSP, this seems to indicate Congress’ overall interest in gathering information about the nation’s freight transportation network.

Mr. Pavlak stated that he understands that some Working Group members perceive the PPFSP as an opportunity to educate Congress and others about the role and importance of ports, but that he believes the Working Group should stick closely to statutory requirements when preparing its recommendations to BTS.

Dr. Yoh said that some Working Group members had expressed a concern about scope creep, but that she sees value in trying to anticipate what additional information Congress may request next.

Ms. Livingstone suggested that the point of performance metrics is to provide actionable information to drive decisions.

Ms. Rayman recommended starting small and being clear about assumptions and limitations, but not steering clear of thinking about potential future applications or implications of the data collected. Ms. Rayman provided a brief example of the FAST Act’s freight provisions. In the law known as MAP-21, U.S. DOT was required to designate a primary freight network of no more than 27,000 miles. She said that U.S. DOT put out a 27,000-mile map that met the statutory requirements, as well as a larger map of more than 40,000 miles. In the FAST Act, Congress directed freight-focused funding to that larger network. She stated that FHWA wants to know where the problem areas are on that network so that funds can be directed at chokepoints (e.g., grade crossings).

Ms. Brand, of MARAD, suggested that Congress lacks information about ports since the private sector has traditionally been more directly involved in data collection and analysis. She also suggested that the Federal government should only be collecting data if the data can help fix problems. Ms. Aylward agreed that the relationship between the Federal government and U.S. ports is evolving.

Mr. Seroka, of the Port of Los Angeles, said that in the past several years, there has been more collaboration among solutions-driven port stakeholders. He suggested that this collaboration needs to be demonstrated to Congress, and that one way to do this would be to have industry representatives appear with the BTS Director when she goes before Congress to deliver the first Annual Report.

Mr. Gold, of the NRF, stated that his organization wants to bring more visibility to port congestion. He cited truck turn times as an example, saying that there should be national uniformity on how that is defined and measured. He added that the port performance data collected by BTS should help to pinpoint where resources need to be directed.

Mr. Whalen, of ATA, said that he thinks the first Annual Report to Congress should provide a baseline of current trends and the overall situation at the nation’s ports. He stated that many people know something about a particular constituency at the ports, but they do not have a systematic or holistic perspective of port operations. Regarding truck turn times, Mr. Whalen noted that some U.S. ports are reporting it, and he asked why that data should not be included in the Annual Report. He suggested that the effort at this stage should be to paint a broad picture of what is happening at ports.

Dr. Wakeman stated that some U.S. ports have port productivity working groups and asked if it would it be useful to survey which metrics these groups are using.

Mr. Podue, ILWU, referenced the labor difficulties at West Coast ports in 2014-2015. He suggested that organized labor has frustrations, just like others in the supply-chain, about hindrances to moving cargo (e.g., changes in business processes). He said that organized labor has been actively involved in the port productivity working groups created at a number of U.S. ports. He recommended that the Working Group give Congress what was asked for in the PPFSP enabling legislation and then wait to see if Congress asks for more information. Mr. Marcus also stated that the Working Group should focus on complying with its Congressional mandate.

Dr. Schmitt observed that there is precedent for developing performance metrics that are not necessarily actionable at the time they are developed. He mentioned, for example, that BTS reports numbers of highway fatalities every year. He said that this data does not tell anyone what needs to be done to reduce fatalities. However, it does indicate whether the problem is getting better or worse over time. Similarly, the PPFSP will not determine how to improve performance at a given port, but it will help to assess at a broad level if there are overall issues affecting performance.

Dr. Schmitt reiterated his suggestion of starting with existing measures and then building upon those over time. He noted that there may be data quality issues with existing measures that need to be addressed. The next steps could be to collect new data or to improve the quality of data already being collected. He is hopeful that as BTS receives and considers all of the Working Group’s recommendations, BTS will be able to develop a meaningful PPFSP.


Ms. Monteverde, of AAPA, noted that some ports have already submitted comments to the Working Group and BTS with information about port productivity metrics they are working to develop or that are already in use. She added that these efforts have not looked at metrics from a national perspective; they have focused on port-specific issues. Ms. Monteverde also suggested that port performance data should not be used to determine the allocation of Federal funds.


Dr. Wakeman said that the feedback provided by the Working Group during the meeting would be used to refine the straw recommendations. A set of final draft recommendations will be distributed to the Working Group in advance of the group’s next meeting on November 18, 2016. The Working Group should aim to discuss and finalize the recommendations at that time.

Ms. Aylward suggested that the Working Group discuss, as part of its next meeting, potential follow-up steps that could be taken after the group sunsets to “hand off” the recommendations. Dr. Wakeman said that there may be existing Federal Advisory Committee (FAC) bodies that are addressing some of the same issues as the PPFSP Working Group. He agreed that this should be a topic of discussion at the Working Group’s November meeting. He thanked everyone for their participation and adjourned the meeting.


The meeting adjourned at 3:00 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 at its next meeting, and any corrections or notations will be incorporated in the minutes of that meeting.

1 The observations and highlights presented do not necessarily reflect a consensus view of the Working Group as a whole or a consensus view of any particular breakout group.