On a recent weekday morning, the Port of Oakland was humming. A giant ship had just docked with thousands of containers stacked aboard like giant Lego bricks. The Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline loomed in the distance. Beyond lay the mighty Pacific the ship had just traversed.
Outside the terminal, the air was filled with the din of idling engines. The semi-trucks that would transport the containers to nearby distribution centers were lined up half-a-mile down Middle Harbor Road with their engines running.
Some 7,000 trucks a day move in and out of the port, which is among the top ten busiest in the U.S. This traffic comes at a tremendous cost to the surrounding neighborhood. West Oakland residents have twice the cancer risk compared to other parts of the county due to diesel particulate matter spewed by the trucks. Area residents also experience higher rates of asthma-related ER visits and hospitalizations, especially in children under five.
All of this is set to change as California regulators phase out these trucks that pollute human lungs and the atmosphere. Starting in 2023, semis that are 14 years or older and/or have more than 800,000 miles will no longer be allowed on California roads. The governor also passed an executive order that all big rigs must be zero emission by 2035.
The transition will be massive and it’s why Forum Mobility exists. Forum is building EV charging infrastructure and providing heavy-duty electric trucks for the short trips between ports and warehouses that are known as drayage.
As Forum’s CEO Matt LeDucq puts it, “Forum is on a mission to electrify drayage, which is a huge industry that you haven’t heard that much about.”
It Came on a Truck
There’s a saying among truckers: “If you bought it, it came on a truck.” And they are right. Trucks move roughly 72% of the nation’s freight. And most of this freight—some 75%—is moved less than 250 miles. In North America, there are more than 60 million drayage movements a year.
In short, drayage is a huge, dirty industry that most of us haven’t heard much about.
In California, some 33,000 trucks are registered as drayage trucks, serving the Port of Oakland and the even larger ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Of those 33,000 trucks, 80% are owned by independent owners and operators.
“This adds another layer of complication to the industry,” explains LeDucq.
Electric big rigs currently cost around $450K each, which is beyond the reach of most truckers. Forum’s solution is to offer truckers two options for a monthly fee: fully charge their electric truck at a charging station or lease a fully-charged truck.
“We deliver a solution to truckers that enables them to go zero emission while not hurting them economically,” says LeDucq.
Forum just finished building its first charging station at Hight Logistics, a family-owned drayage operator based out of the Port of Long Beach, and will be leasing the company 12 electric big rigs. Over the next 18 months, Forum will be building charging facilities for 500-600 trucks throughout California and is in negotiations for thousands more.
Fixing Our Environment
Nelson Gonzalez has worked in trucking for over two decades, or “all of my adult life,” as he puts it. For the last four years, Gonzalez has worked as the General Manager at Hight Logistics. His work has provided him with a front seat view into the lives of truckers.
“Truckers are always at the bottom end of the totem pole,” says Gonzalez. “Even though they move everything.”
According to Gonzalez, many truckers are stressed out about the coming transition to electric. “It’s not easy to get an electric truck. You’re asking people to essentially take on a second mortgage,” he says.
Gonzalez is excited about his company’s partnership with Forum and to learn how electric big rigs perform when hauling containers. He recently climbed into the cab of an electric truck and was blown away by how quiet and comfortable it was. It was also an easy to operate automatic, versus a clunky 16-gear, diesel-powered semi.
“I’m excited because I like technology. I think it’s good because we are trying to fix our environment, and that’s something we all want,” he said. “We are all Californians. I want my grandkids to enjoy the good air.”