Several days of delays and disruption caused by glitches in the launch of a new computerized operating system frayed nerves and caused expensive dislocations for truckers and ship lines at the Port of New York and New Jersey’s largest container terminal, but Gary Cross, CEO of Maher Terminals, expects long-term gain to outweigh short-term pain.
Despite the startup problems, the new Navis N4 terminal operating system is a needed upgrade for an in-house system the terminal had used for years, he said. “It puts us in position to handle the larger vessels that will be coming our way with the raising of the Bayonne Bridge and the widening of the Panama Canal,” Cross said.
For most of the last two weeks, truckers and ocean carriers have been unable to look beyond the here and now. Several days of monumental truck lines forced Maher to subcontract several ship calls to other port terminals. At least seven ships booked for Maher were worked by APM Terminals and New York Container Terminal.
Drayage companies are tallying their losses for chassis rentals, per diem charges on equipment and loss of productivity when drivers stuck in line at Maher were unable to pick up or deliver containers at other terminals.
“It was a nightmare,” said Jeff Bader, president of Golden Carriers and the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers.
Maher agreed to add up to two hours to detention payments for truckers’ waiting time outside terminal gates last week. The terminal also waived free time and demurrage for the two weeks ending June 21. Gate hours were extended last week from the normal 4 p.m. closing until 7 p.m.
Cross said the Navis N4 system performed without a hitch during the first three phases of a four-phase introduction at Maher. The system has been installed at numerous other terminals around the world.
The phase-in began more than two months ago at Maher’s off-dock depots for empty containers and chassis. The system later was introduced at the company’s main terminal, where it was used for Bermuda Container Line’s small operation, and at Maher’s rail terminal.
Maher closed its gates on June 7 to inventory the terminal’s containers and prepare for the full cutover to the new system. During the following weekend, the new system was used for limited vessel operations and additional work.
When the system began full operation on June 10, unexpected problems emerged. Delivery of export loads had to be halted, and truckers faced intermittent closings of terminal gates because of heavy backups that clogged roadways leading to the port.
Cross said the bottlenecks resulted when the system failed to recognize all of the slots that were available for trucks to use at the point where boxes are interchanged with straddle carriers.
Many trucks also were shunted to the terminal services building, known by drivers as the “trouble window.” A cell phone photo making the rounds last week showed several dozen drivers out of their cabs and waiting in line there.
Productivity also was affected at ships, although Cross said this was mainly due to a break-in period while workers grew familiar with the new operating system.
Subcontracting of vessel calls to APM Terminals and NYCT provided Maher with breathing room that allowed the backlog to be cleared. “We appreciate the cooperation the other terminals have provided,” Cross said.
Although the switching of ship calls eased the strain on Maher’s system, it created difficulties for truckers who had to scramble to find chassis, and make additional trips to pick up and deliver chassis. TRAC Intermodal, which operates the Metro chassis pool at the port, has been shifting chassis between terminals and depots in an effort to keep pace with demand.
By the middle of the new system’s second week, things were starting to get back on track. Gate activity had returned to normal, and Cross said Maher handled nearly 4,000 truck gate moves Tuesday. That was below the approximately 5,000 he said the terminal normally handles, but significantly higher than the daily volume of 1,100 to 1,200 when the new system debuted the previous week.