The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will replace fewer old trucks than expected under a $28 million clean-air initiative but says the program is a success and may be a forerunner of similar efforts.
A final push is under way for truckers to meet an Aug. 1 application deadline for a share of $7 million in federal grants and $21 million in low-interest loans for replacing pre-2003 model trucks with less-polluting models built since 2007. The Environmental Protection Agency grant that provided the $7 million expires Sept. 30.
By early July, 82 trucks had been replaced and 180 applications had been filed, the port authority said. Those numbers are far below the 636 vehicles the agency hoped to replace when the port authority launched the program early last year.
Owners of the 82 trucks replaced received grants averaging $11,000 to buy newer vehicles. If the 180 pending applications result in similar grants, the program would use only $2.9 million of the $7 million the EPA made available.
Nevertheless, the program has achieved its goal, port authority spokesman Steve Coleman said. “It was not about spending the $7 million; it was about replacing old trucks,” he said.
The port authority says the program will succeed in replacing virtually all pre-1994 trucks at the port. A 2008 survey estimated 636 such trucks operated regularly at the port, but a recent survey indicated the number had dropped to 196. Truckers say enforcement of a port authority ban on pre-1994 trucks has been spotty.
The 180 applications on file will be sufficient to replace all remaining pre-1994 models, Coleman said. The program “has met our expectations,” he said. “Our goal was to replace many if not all of the pre-1994 trucks serving the port.”
New York-New Jersey’s truck-replacement effort sought to sidestep the acrimony surrounding the issue in Los Angeles, where a federal court has blocked the port from imposing a Teamsters-backed requirement to require owner-operators to become union-eligible employees.
The Los Angeles controversy produced a congressional bill to allow local authorities to pre-empt federal regulation of rates, routes and services. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s governing board and Mayors Cory Booker of Newark and Michael Bloomberg of New York have endorsed that change.
The port authority’s port division did not seek to use its truck-replacement plan to change labor practices in port trucking. The plan was developed in meetings with industry, labor and environmental groups. Port officials persuaded all factions to endorse the program, but some did so with reservations.
The Teamsters union and environmental groups are skeptical that owner-operators, who account for some 70 percent of port drivers, will be able to afford monthly payments on newer vehicles. A $45,000 truck purchased with a 25 percent grant under the program would result in a $33,750 loan that would carry a $640 monthly note.
Fred Potter, head of the Teamsters’ port division, said he supports replacement of old trucks but calls the owner-operator model “unsustainable.”
The New York-New Jersey program initially was restricted to replacement of pre-1994 trucks but was expanded to finance replacement of port drayage trucks built between 1994 and 2003. Replacement trucks would have to be 2007 models or newer.
In February, the port authority approved a supplemental truck-replacement program to pair $1.6 million in EPA funds for truck-replacement grants with $4.7 million in port funds for low-interest loans. Like the initial program, the new one uses a formula of 25 percent grants and 75 percent subsidized loans.
The supplemental program, which runs through March, is designed to help owner-operators and companies finance replacement of an estimated 126 trucks built between 1994 and 2003. The port authority estimates that nearly 4,000 trucks from that era operate regularly at the port.
The port authority plans to seek additional programs as federal funds become available to replace old trucks with newer, less-polluting models, Coleman said. “We plan to respond to each request for proposals issued by EPA for additional … grant funding to support follow-on truck replacement programs,” he said.