What can Port of Tacoma do to become more competitive with the Canadian ports?

To recap, Vancouver has a slight edge in certain factors like the cost of transiting terminals, they have more large super-post-Panamax cranes, they have slightly better rail delivery rates through state-subsidized Canadian National Rail, slightly better productivity, and they get a break of about $100 per container on Harbor Maintenance Tax.  And they have massive plans for expansion.

One of the most obvious things we can do to improve our competitive position is to improve our productivity, and having modern, state of the art equipment would make it a lot easier.  The slight edge Vancouver enjoys in productivity could easily be attributed to the fact that they’ve spent a lot of money upgrading their cranes and yard equipment.

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Port Metro Vancouver or Port of Tacoma? Who’s got the edge?





According to a report prepared for Port Metro Vancouver (PMV), their Container Traffic Forecast (which again, I encourage everyone to read), they predict that West Coast container volumes will increase between 3.4% and 5.7% per year through 2030.  Based on that, they’re forecasting their share of the traffic will provide increases for PMV from 3.51 million TEUs in 2014 to 7.02 million TEUs in 2030.

According to the report, they believe they will capture the lion’s share of this work because:

“…Vancouver is considered to have a better competitive position than its immediate competitors – Prince Rupert, Seattle, and Tacoma – based on a review of the following criteria:

  • Physical capability of the terminals;
  • Planned development of capacity;
  • Productivity of the terminals;
  • Cost of transiting the terminals;
  • Delivered costs to Central Canada and the US Midwest;
  • Intermodal capacity;
  • Import/export balances;
  • Suitability as a regional hub; and
  • Existing customer base.

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Port of Tacoma – moving boldly into the future, or sliding into oblivion?


I read a really good book recently, on the evolution of container shipping:  The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, by Marc Levinson.   It’s a great book.  Anyone interested in understanding the Port of Tacoma and/or the shipping business should read it.

One of the things that struck me was how quickly the shipping world transitioned from “breakbulk” cargo to containers.  Breakbulk was where everything was all shipped individually, or more recently, on pallets. It’s the same basic system that’s been used for hundreds of years. A breakbulk ship might take a week or more to unload, as everything was taken off piece by piece. But put the same amount of cargo in containers and the ship could be unloaded in just hours.   The cost savings from containerization were enormous. In the mid-50’s, the world was breakbulk; by the start of the 70’s, container shipping was big business.

It wasn’t an easy transition at all; the push to containerize was very contentious with many, diverse elements of the industry including the unions fighting it.  The ports as a whole were very skeptical – transitioning to working containers was quite an expensive proposition because of the specialized equipment necessary.

A few forward-looking ports including Tacoma decided to take the plunge, investing heavily in container cranes and handling equipment.  Many other ports did not, believing breakbulk would prevail.

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An open letter to the Tacoma City Council and Port Commissioners


Self determination is really important to Americans. That is after all, why we fought the Revolutionary War — so the American people could decide their own fate, not King George and the English aristocracy.

Well it’s obvious some people in Tacoma have forgotten that.

Most elected leaders in this democracy would err on the side of the democratic process. If a sufficient number of citizens were riled up about any particular issue to qualify an initiative for an election, the leaders would typically champion that as our democracy at work, and then abide by the results. That is what a democracy is all about. Rule for the people, of the people and by the people.

Except in Tacoma. In Tacoma, when the common people have the sheer effrontery to challenge the supreme wisdom of their elected leaders, the leaders go to court and file massive lawsuits to beat and club and force the people into submission.

The lawsuit brought jointly by the Port of Tacoma, the The Chamber of Commerce, the EDB and now the City of Tacoma against the Save Tacoma Water organizers unmasks the dictatorial, authoritarian style of our current elected leaders.

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Port of Tacoma – NYK Deal – Money Mostly Well Spent

Like I said in the last post, I don’t usually read the Tacoma News Tribune. It’s a scandal rag, owned by the McClatchy organization.

Last week, I couldn’t help looking at their story on the Port of Tacoma – a copy was lying there on a table at work, open to the story, Port of Tacoma’s Blair Development: Millions to nowhere. So reluctantly – knowing that with a title like that, it couldn’t be a good story – I read on.

In the article, they tell the story of the development of the proposed new container terminal for NYK.

Briefly, in 2007, the Port of Tacoma signed a deal with the shipping line NYK, to provide them a new dedicated 168 acre container terminal in Tacoma, located on the tip of the Blair Peninsula. Integral to building the new terminal was relocating an existing terminal, Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE), and the demolition of existing buildings, as well as the cleanup of some toxic waste sites.

Because the Port didn’t own all the property necessary for the project, it spent some $146 million on property acquisition and demolition.

In 2007 when the deal with NYK was inked, the economy was going great guns. All the projections – which were accepted pretty much universally – held that Chinese imports would explode in the coming years, with cargo growth rates reaching as much as 25% a year. The big fear, up and down the West Coast, was that we would not have enough dock space or the infrastructure available to handle the glut of Chinese cargo coming in.

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Dubai Ports World Deal – Handing The Keys To The Kingdom To An Enemy?

Straddle carriers unloading a ship at Pierce County Terminal
It’s amazing the amount of fuss that’s been stirred up on both sides of the aisle by the Bush administration’s approval of the sale of P&O Orient Lines to Dubai Ports World.

Under the terms of that sale, Dubai Ports World would take over as operator of six container terminals in the United States. Those terminals are located in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami and New Orleans.

The country of Dubai, a part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), wholly owns Dubai Ports World. The UAE are located at the southern end of the Persian Gulf.

Dubai Ports World has built a solid track record as a stevedore company, with operations all over the world.

And as a country, Dubai has set itself out to be the banking and financial center of the Arab world. It’s a cosmopolitan, relatively tolerant country where 75% of the citizens are foreigners. But it’s also the country the al Qaeda used to funnel financing to the US for the 9/11 bombings, and was used as the travel hub by most of the hijackers.

From the Associated Press:

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