America’s Ports Need More Robots, but the $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill Won’t Fund Automation

The lack of robots is the biggest problem in America’s logistical problems.

Most cranes which unload shipping containers from trucks to boats are fully automated in major international ports. That means they can operate around the clock at lower cost and—extra importantly right now—have zero risk of catching COVID-19. Recent research has shown that cranes at Rotterdam’s mostly automated port, Netherlands are around 80 percent faster than those at Oakland, California where people still operate the controls. It takes almost twice as long in Oakland to unload the exact same ship as in Rotterdam.

The cost of automation can be a major obstacle to its adoption. According to The Associated Press, it can run up to $500 million to add fully-automated terminals to existing ports. Journal of CommerceAn international trade magazine. It might be a good idea to do this in the long-term, but short-term concerns keep American ports at their current less efficient state.

Conveniently, Congress has just passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending bill—one that includes $17 billion for port infrastructure. About $2.6 billion of that $17billion is specifically designated to pay for the upgrade costs at America’s ports. This nominally serves as an air quality reduction measure.

Automation of ports should be on the top or close to the top of your list if you are a member looking for money to instantly and meaningfully improve American infrastructure. It is practically a given.

However, the bad news is hidden on page 308 in the 1600+ page bill. “Zero-emission port technology” refers to human-operated or human-maintained equipment.

Yes, subsidies given as part President Joe Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Deal are strictly prohibited from being used in automating American ports. Instead taxpayers will invest billions in upgrading cranes that aren’t as efficient or cost-effective to replace them with low-emission alternatives. This is a huge missed opportunity.

Why? This may have been due to Biden’s strong ties with labor unions. Unions, along with cost, are the main reason American ports do not have more robots. The politically powerful union representing dockworkers, longshoremen’s union of Los Angeles took umbrage when an automated terminal was installed at Los Angeles Port of Los Angeles in 2011.

The automated terminals have been a huge hit with the truck drivers that work at the port. The Los Angeles Times It was revealed that 2019 saw drivers who were paid per delivery happy to have reliable loading times and not wait for hours just to collect a container. The paper heard from one truck driver that automation had made it easier to not have to spend hours waiting in lines. It was possible because dockworkers made it their business to work early and then come back later.

To address shipping delays, the Biden administration relies on America’s largest west coast ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Long Beach. However, this shift won’t happen overnight. have to hire more workersTo make it possible.

According to The Associated Press, automate ports at places such as Norfolk in Virginia are handling record volumes without any backlog. Journal of Commerce. “With the automation, you can rework your yard to say, ‘Okay, while I was expecting to be loading Ship A first, I’m now loading Ship B first,′ and can keep import flow fluid,” Stephen Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Port of Virginia, told the JournalSeptember

No matter how much Congress may subsidize this transition, port operators should be investing in automation. If lawmakers approve massive amounts of infrastructure spending, then it’s reasonable to question why some of America’s most important upgrades are specifically forbidden. The White House and Congress seem more concerned with wooing unions than fixing America’s supply chains problems.