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  October 11th, 2017 | Written by

Big-Ship Jitters

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  • The key to solving port issues: coordination, cooperation, collaboration, and teamwork.
  • The number of drivers willing to service containers continues to dwindle.
  • NYNJ needs longer gate hours and make them consistent from terminal and terminal.

The era of the big ship has taken the port of New York and New Jersey by storm, leaving port stakeholders nervous about the port’s capabilities to handle the levels of cargo carried by the new mega vessels. The completion of the raising of the Bayonne Bridge roadbed in June had the immediate effect of attracting a new generation of giant containerships to the port, with the prospect of increasing cargo volumes but also port congestion.

According to a panel speaking to the NYNJ Port Industry Day last week, the key to solving, or at least coping with the issues now facing the port, thanks to the big ships calling there, are coordination, cooperation, collaboration, and teamwork. The Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey has endeavored to facilitate those values with platforms, such as the Council for Port Performance, that bring port stakeholders together for discussion and brainstorming.

Drayage and driver issues, as well as gate and terminal operations, dominated during the panel discussion.

“We must not lose sight that the basic essential component are the truckers themselves,” said Jeffrey Bader, president of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers. “The number of drivers willing to service containers continues to dwindle. We must prioritize reducing the time for pick ups and drop offs.”

The port has yet to address the gate-hours situation, according to Bader. “We need longer gate hours and make them consistent from terminal and terminal, as they are at other ports, to ease the burdens of truckers.”

“We need more hours at the port and more drivers and we also also need to stagger pick ups and drop offs,” agreed Steve Schulein, vice president for drayage at National Retail Systems. The Port of Oakland charges a $30 gate fee per shipment and is open 24 hours a day, he noted.

“I’m happy to pay the $30 gate fee in Oakland,” said Alison Leavitt, managing director of the Wine and Spirits Shippers Association, which primarily uses the ports of Oakland and New York and New Jersey for importing and exporting. “Shippers are willing to pay for service that actually works.”

Bader noted that a truck reservation system has produced some improvement at one NYNJ terminal, but, in general, he’s not crazy about reservation systems, because there is not enough evidence to prove that they work consistently.

Reservation systems aren’t a panacea, agreed Leavitt, because they often don’t accurately reflect how long it takes a driver to get from point a to b for pickups and dropoffs. They are are also often too rigid, leaving drivers in the lurch if a specific container is not available for pickup and the system doesn’t allow the driver to service another container.

Automation doesn’t solve everything,” she said. “Sometimes you really need to get someone on the phone to solve a problem” but that’s increasingly difficult in today’s environment.

Bader acknowledged that improvements have been made and that these have come about “as a direct result of stakeholders working together, sharing ideas and listening to each others’ concerns and feedback. Taking a rational and reasonable approach—that is the greatest asset we have at the port of New York and New Jersey.”