This summer’s delays at New York-New Jersey’s container terminals are spurring the port’s diverse factions to work together on short-term and long-term solutions to difficult issues, the port authority’s top seaport official said.
“This is a ‘we’ problem,” Rick Larrabee, director of port commerce at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, told the JOC. “If there’s any silver lining we’ve seen this summer, it’s a recognition that we in the port have to work more closely together.”
New York-New Jersey’s cargo delays began in June with computer-related problems at Maher Terminals. Delays rippled portwide as ships were diverted to other terminals, causing volume spikes and reduced productivity that aggravated vacation-season tightness in the longshore work force.
Delays have eased in recent days, although Global Terminal is still battling congestion caused by from higher volume and major construction. Maher is running smoothly since it scaled back automated components of its new system, and the terminal’s diverted ships are expected to return after Labor Day.
Larrabee said port production “is getting better, but it’s still not at an acceptable level”
He said port customers he has spoken with recognize “that this is a short-lived problem and that we’re focusing on it … I’ve talked to a lot of frustrated people, but I think that at the end of the day they realize we’re doing what we can to fix the problem and make it better for the future.”
The port authority is a landlord to container terminals, and is not directly involved in port operations. Nevertheless, Larrabee and other agency officials have been meeting with terminals, truckers, the New York Shipping Association and others to discuss solutions.
NYSA President John Nardi has said port employers plan soon to seek Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor approval to expand the longshore work force beyond some 300 workers who will take early retirement under the new International Longshoremen’s Association contract.
Other possible steps under discussion include extending hours at terminal gates to make it easier for truckers to make multiple trips in a day.
Larrabee said there’s a need for development of universally accepted key performance indicators for things such as truck turn times. He said a port program that takes effect Aug. 19 to require radio-frequency identification technology for trucks and terminals is a step toward that goal.
The complexity of the New York-New Jersey port magnifies the impact of disruptions. Larrabee noted that the port serves 80,000 beneficial cargo owners, double the number in Los Angeles-Long Beach, and that more than 86 percent of the port’s traffic moves by truck.
“In many ways, this port is fragile, but when you look at the volume of cargo we handle here and the capacity we can bring to bear, I think we’re pretty resilient,” Larrabee said. He cited the port’s quick recovery from Hurricane Sandy’s devastation last fall.
“I think we have a tremendous capacity to learn from some of the things we’ve dealt with this summer and to fix them, and to fix them in a way that will make us stronger,” Larrabee said.