How long do drayage drivers spend getting in and out of container terminals at the Port of New York and New Jersey? Motor carriers hope radio-frequency identification will provide answers.
Port terminals this month began phasing in a new requirement for RFID tags on all trucks entering terminal gates. By capturing data about incoming trucks, the terminals hope to improve traffic flow and security.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Sustainable Terminal Services, a consortium of terminal operators, are dividing the program’s $1.6 million start-up cost with the Department of Homeland Security.
Dick Jones, executive director of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers, said association members still have questions about the program, announced last September. But he said motor carriers see potential benefits, including accurate reporting of truck turnaround times. “We need accurate data,” he said. “Our members will tell customers that trucks are waiting three or four hours to pick up a load, but the customer will call the terminal and will be told that the queue times are only 20 minutes.”
Motor carriers are in discussions with terminals about providing turn-time data captured by RFID readers at or near terminal gates. One complication may be that terminals’ different layouts make it difficult or impossible to install readers where they’ll uniformly measure queue times for trucks waiting outside terminal gates. Jones said he’s optimistic a solution can be reached. “Having accurate data will benefit everyone,” he said.
Like most things involving port drayage, the RFID program hasn’t been free of controversy. Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, said the tags shouldn’t be used to enforce the clean trucks program’s ban on trucks with engines built in 1993 or earlier.
Last year, the port authority proposed requiring trucks to display stickers showing compliance with the port’s clean trucks program. After the association objected, the port authority made the stickers voluntary.
Toth said RFID tags are a higher-tech equivalent of stickers, and that using them to enforce the port authority’s ban on older trucks would illegally pre-empt federal regulation of rates, routes and services.
The RFID tags “are primarily being used for security purposes, with a secondary benefit of terminal productivity and efficiency,” a port authority spokesman said. “We have carefully reviewed the proposed usage and do not envision any potential legal restrictions.”
Toth said the New Jersey truckers’ association will await a Supreme Court ruling this year in a case involving the Port of Los Angeles’ clean trucks program before deciding whether to challenge the way RFID tags are used in New York-New Jersey.
Truckers also have complained about the tags’ cost. They’re free until May 15, after which new or replacement tags will cost $95 each. The port authority said it expects to issue approximately 11,500 tags. As of May 6, drayage operators had ordered 10,099.
Port container terminals have installed readers to capture the tags’ RFID signals. Global Terminals began testing its readers this month. Tags will be required portwide after July 15, and trucks without a tag will be denied access to terminals. Truckers lacking tags will have to purchase a tag at the port’s truck service center. The port authority says tags will be available the same day.