Container terminals in the ports of New York-New Jersey and Virginia plan to keep truck gates open this weekend to tackle cargo backlogs that developed over the holidays and have worsened with this month’s cold weather.
Maher Terminals, which handles 40 percent of New York-New Jersey’s container volume, said it would keep its truck gates open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Gates usually are closed on weekends.
Virginia International Terminal said truck gates at its Norfolk International Terminal and APM Terminal would be open Saturday. VIT’s terminals have been battling congestion aggravated by high volume, the holidays, and weather disruptions.
New York-New Jersey teminals were closed from mid-day Tuesday thorugh Wednesday by a snowstorm. Virginia terminals also were affected by weather, and had to delay their opening on Wednesday.
The rough start to 2014 has raised questions about how ports will deal with expected increases in container volume this year. JOC Economist Mario O. Moreno forecasts U.S. import container volume will rise 6 percent this year, an increase from 3.5 percent in 2013.
Truckers have endured long lines all month at New York-New Jersey terminals. Drayage opeators say that almost every day, at least one terminal is so congested that drivers must wait for up to several hours to pick up of deliver a load.
Most port drivers are owner-operators who are paid by the trip. Companies say chronic delays have made many drivers reluctant to accept assignments to haul containers or chassis to marine terminals where are likely to lose money waiting in line.
Companies with employee drivers have had to pay for unproductive waiting time on streets outside terminals. Terminals are required to pay detention penalties only for excess time that trucks spend inside terminal gates.
Long waiting times have cut into drivers’ productivity and squeezed their allowable working time under new hours of service regulations. Motor carriers also have been hit by extra costs for demurrage, container per-diem charges, and chassis rentals.
Terminals have granted some extensions of free time, but truckers say they’re still absorbing costs they can’t pass on. Maher said free time expiring Friday would not be extended through the weekend.
New York-New Jersey has suffered months of frequent delays. Start-up problems with integration of a new terminal operating system at Maher set off summer-long gridlock that rippled through the port. The problems were aggravated by vacation-season shortages of longshore labor and major construction in and around terminals.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last month announced an industry task force to find ways to improve the port’s performance. Working groups are scheduled to issue reports to the task force, which is scheduled to meet again next month and issue a full report in June.