Ports alliance wants more control over its own service

A proposed maritime alliance between the ports of Tacoma and Seattle will make exceptional service its hallmark, John Wolfe, the Port of Tacoma’s chief executive told the audience at the Port of Tacoma’s annual breakfast Wednesday.

Wolfe, the likely chief executive officer of the planned alliance, said the two ports want to make their productivity, their customer service, their reliability and their ease of doing business the “best-in-class.”

The two ports are planning an operational and marketing alliance in order to attract and retain more shipping clients in the Pacific Northwest. The region in recent years has lost market share to Southern California and to new ports in British Columbia and Mexico.

The Tacoma and Seattle ports have been working for months to draft an alliance that would allow the two ports to retain separate ownership of their terminals but that would permit them to be operated and marketed as one.

Wolfe told several hundred attendees at the breakfast that he wants to form a working advisory group of the two ports, terminal operators, truckers, railroads and labor unions to expedite cargo movements through the ports, to provide clear feedback to customers and to address issues as they arise in delivering the “highest level of service” to port users.

The recent West Coast port slowdown caused by a disagreement between a group representing shipping lines and terminal operators and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has sullied the reputation of the ports, he said, and caused some shippers to look elsewhere for import and export services. A tentative agreement between the union and employers will go to ILWU members in April for a vote.

Wolfe said he intends to create a series of service benchmarks designed to measure the ports’ progress in meeting its service goals. Those results will be publicly published monthly to tell customers and the public how well the ports are progressing to improving their service.

Wolfe said the particulars of the alliance are still in the planning stages, but the two ports are making significant progress toward designing a working relationship that improves service.

“We don’t have it all figured out yet, but we’re very excited,” he told the crowd at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center.

The Port of Tacoma, he said, in addition to moving forward with the alliance with Seattle, accomplished several significant achievements in the last year including signing a deal for a billion-dollar methanol plant, leasing a tract for a liquified natural gas facility and updating its Pier 3 to handle the new generation of mega-sized containerships. The port and the City of Fife, he said, are working on modifications to critical intersection of Port of Tacoma Road, Interstate 5 and Pacific Highway to facilitate the movement of cargo to and from the port.