March 5, 2024

ACF spurs small gain in zero-emission drayage trucks at Port of Long Beach


Even with regulators shelving California’s Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) rule for at least a few months, the first data released by the Port of Long Beach suggests how the drayage industry was getting ready for its launch at the start of this year.

How the data is interpreted is a classic case of whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.

When the ACF was expected to kick in Jan. 1, with its biggest impact hitting first in the drayage sector, the most significant rule was that no new vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE) could be submitted to the state’s drayage registry.

Although the ACF is not being enforced while questions of its legality play out, the Long Beach data shows its impact.

There were 111 zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) registered at the port last July. By January, that had exactly doubled, to 222.

That doubling might argue in favor of a half-full glass for the transition to ZEVs. But the raw numbers of vehicle moves could argue the other way.

In July, 0.5% of all drayage moves within the port were with a ZEV. In January, that figure had more than doubled — but was still just 1.16%. Given the ACF’s anticipated implementation, such increases would be expected.

But the data also supports the expectation that faced with a Dec. 31 deadline after which no new ICE vehicles could be added to the state’s drayage registry, there would be a surge in new registrations of ICE vehicles.

In July, the number of trucks registered with the port was 21,585. It stayed below 22,000 for the next three months but then climbed to 22,267 in November and 24,013 in December. In January, the number declined by 67, to 23,946.

Overall, the growth between July and December was 2,428, so the growth in ZEVs was less than  5% of that increase.

The sharp increase in the number of all trucks available to service the port did not occur against a backdrop of rising demand that could explain such a higher number. The number of moves in October recorded a recent peak at 376,672. But in January, total moves were 331,979, and they had dropped below 300,000 in December.

Data from the adjacent Port of Los Angeles for January shows that only 1% of the vehicles with access were battery electric, with three hydrogen vehicles in the system. Battery electric vehicles accounted for 1% of all port moves; the port of Los Angeles monthly report does not provide data out to two decimal points as Long Beach does.

Phase-outs begin next year

One aspect of the ACF that did not factor in any number change between 2023 and 2024 was the eventual requirement to phase out vehicles after they reach certain age or mileage thresholds.

Matt Schrap, the CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, the trade group that represents the drayage community, noted that the requirement that a drayage vehicle be retired after it reaches the end of what the state calls its “useful life” kicks in at the start of 2025 when mileage data is to be reported to the state. All vehicles prior to a 2010 model year are already banned.

The rule is that a truck must be retired when it reaches the later of either 13 years since the model year that the engine was certified for use by the California Air Resources Board, or the date when the vehicle exceeds mileage of 800,000 miles or 18 years. So if a vehicle reaches 800,000 miles in 11 years, it can stay on the road until the 13-year mark. If it hits 18 years but hasn’t reached 800,000 miles, it has to be taken off the road.

Noel Hacegaba, the chief operating officer of the Port of Long Beach, said the port’s recent numbers align with the expected impact of the regulation. “It’s more than likely that a large part of the increase in trucks in the registry is due to what everybody expected to be the December 31 deadline to register these internal combustion engine trucks,” he said in an interview with FreightWaves.

Hacegaba said the port did not have a ZEV target number for the end of 2024 but that the market has “two major levers” that should help propel growth.

One is the combination of federal and state incentives to get a fleet to buy a ZEV that costs more than $400,000 instead of just continuing to run an ICE vehicle, since a new ICE vehicle won’t be able to be admitted to the drayage registry once the ACF is enforced.

The second is the continued installation of charging infrastructure. Hacegaba ticked off projects in or near the port that he said are adding to that capacity “literally on a daily basis.”

“We’re confident that we’re going to continue to see that incremental growth in the years ahead,” he said.

Funding for the infrastructure has come in part from the Clean Truck Fund Rate, which applies a $10 fee for every twenty-foot equivalent unit that goes through the port, except those carried on a ZEV. Hacegaba said in the first 22 months of the program, the port has collected roughly $70 million to be used for charging infrastructure development.

Echoing the half-empty/half-full debate, Hacebaga said of the ZEV versus ICE vehicle numbers at the port, “When there are 15,000 trucks that regularly visit the port, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go. But the incremental growth in zero-emission vehicles just within the first year is certainly encouraging to us.”

That 15,000 is the approximate number of “active” vehicles in the latest Port of Long Beach report, as opposed to the registry of total vehicles.

Why the ACF is sidelined for now

The reason why the ACF is not being enforced now is that CARB decided in November it needed a waiver for ACF from the Environmental Protection Agency. CARB had argued for months it did not need such a waiver, but a lawsuit filed by the California Trucking Association insisting it did seems to have changed the agency’s mind. CARB said it would not enforce ACF until there was clarity on the waiver. But that news came late in the cycle.

When CARB announced the delay in the ACF, it also signaled it was holding the door open to retroactive enforcement of some provisions. That could mean any new ICE vehicles registered in 2024 because of the ACF enforcement delay will need to be withdrawn from the drayage registry when the law comes back into force.

Waivers from the EPA to California allowing it to exceed federal rules are virtually always granted. Such a waiver has been granted for the Advanced Clean Trucks rule, the sister regulation to ACF that is aimed at truck manufacturers.

Schrap said he believes the data on new ZEV vehicles entering the registry reflects vehicles that were ordered “a long time ago” and that they are likely to be coming into larger fleets.

“I feel like it’s a bubble frankly and that while yes, there’s deployment happening, we’ll see slower growth from here on out,” Schrap said.

He came back to a theme he has sounded before. In stark contrast to Hacegaba’s optimism about charging infrastructure, Schrap sees the opposite.

In particular, the hope that hydrogen-fueled vehicles would provide a notable contribution to the ZEV fleet is one that Schrap said is foundering on the lack of hydrogen refueling infrastructure.

“There have been a significant amount of cancellations [of various types of ZEV trucks] because there’s no refueling infrastructure,” Schrap said. 

By contrast, the Hacegaba outlook remains cautiously positive.

“If you would have asked me back in 2017 when this 2035 goal was first established, it was a very daunting goal back then,” Hacegaba said, referring to the 2035 deadline by which all drayage vehicles must be ZEVs. “But thanks in large part to some of the regulations and some of the goals established statewide across California, there’s momentum and there are incentives statewide for these manufacturers to start mass producing these trucks. So the operating environment is creating some momentum.”

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