As the Port of New York and New Jersey enters 2014, everyone’s trying to prevent a recurrence of 2013.
Last year was one to forget for the port’s customers. New York-New Jersey’s reputation was battered by summer-long operational problems that produced tens of millions of dollars in losses for truckers, terminals and cargo interests.
Though the crisis ended last fall, things remain far from perfect. Labor shortages and volume spikes continue to cause intermittent delays at terminals that force drayage drivers to spend hours picking up and delivering containers. The delays have been costly for truckers and cargo owners.
Last summer’s mess has yielded at least one positive outcome, however. The problems were the catalyst for a Port Performance Task Force that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has organized to find ways to make things run more smoothly.
|NY-NJ Port Performance Task Force Members|
Rick Larrabee, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
|Source: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey|
“If there was a silver lining from last summer, it was the recognition that everyone in this port has to work together,” said Rick Larrabee, who heads the port authority’s seaport division. “We haven’t had everyone in the room like this before.”
The task force was organized in December with representation from a cross-section of the industry. Members include the New York Shipping Association, the Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors Association, terminal operators, container lines, shippers, motor carriers, chassis providers, railroads, shippers and the International Longshoremen’s Association.
Port officials are acting as facilitators for working groups that are addressing specific issues, such as chassis, terminal gate performance, and how to measure performance. “We want to find ways to measure performance, because what you can measure, you can manage,” Larrabee said.
Rates, service contracts, labor agreements and proprietary issues won’t be discussed.
Task force members are “people who have a stake in the port, people who understand how it works,” Larrabee said. “We want to look at this in a holistic way. We’re optimistic about the port’s future, but we have some things to fix, and I think we can do that together.”
The problems at New York-New Jersey overshadowed a series of positive developments at the East Coast’s busiest port. The Bayonne Bridge is on track to be raised by the end of 2015 to accommodate larger ships, dredging of port channels to 50-foot depth is nearly complete, port terminals are well along with modernization projects, and last year’s new longshore labor contract offers a path to improvements in productivity and efficiency.
Larrabee noted that New York-New Jersey is a complex system, and that some solutions may not be simple or quick. “If these things were easy,” he said, “someone would have done them a long time ago.”
The task force’s working groups held their first meetings in January. The full task force is scheduled to issue its recommendations by June. Coincidentally, that’s the first anniversary of the delays that erupted last summer when Maher Terminals ran into problems with a new operating system.
The problems at Maher cascaded throughout the port as ships were diverted to other terminals. The problems were complicated by seasonal shortages of ILA labor and major construction in and around terminals.
Last year’s difficulties at the port caused some rerouting of shipments, mainly to Virginia. Through the first three quarters of 2013, Virginia’s container volume, including empties, rose 6 percent, while New York-New Jersey’s slipped 3.7 percent. New York-New Jersey’s share of the North Atlantic container market was 53.1 percent, down from 55.1 percent a year earlier.