Detention Dilemma

Detention Dilemma

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

The trucks start lining up outside Port Newark Container Terminal as early as 4 a.m. many weekdays. They are loaded with containers both full and empty that bear the logos of the various liner companies that call at the terminal - APL, CMA CGM, China Shipping, Hapag-Lloyd and others.

Usually the trucks roll steadily through the gate when it opens at 6 a.m., but on some days, especially when several container ships are unloading and loading at the terminal, the trucks must wait outside. That''s when the truckers start complaining.

"It''s taking our drivers four to five hours just to get inside the terminal," said James Mellon, operations manager at Thurston Transportation, an Elizabeth, N.J., drayage company. "The trouble is they can''t get a detention ticket until they''re inside the gate, and that''s taking an average of two to three hours."

Mellon''s frustration echoes trucker complaints about port congestion on the West Coast. As imports surge, intermodal truckers throughout the country complain it is taking longer to get into terminals and load and unload vehicles.

On the West Coast, terminal congestion coupled with rising fuel costs have led to labor disputes and slowdowns. That hasn''t happened in New Jersey, but dray haulers are making their discontent with PNCT''s policies plain.

"We''re aware of their complaints," said Donald P. Hamm, who has been president of PNCT for the past year. "But we''re a business, and we can''t pay them for the time they spend waiting outside the gate when they start lining up as early as 4 a.m." He says PNCT is taking steps to resolve the problem.

The detention tickets sought by Mellon and other haulers allow a trucker to collect a penalty fee - in PNCT''s case for the time they spend within the gates of a terminal beyond 150 minutes for dropping off a single container or 210 minutes for dropping one off and picking up another.

Truckers say other terminals sometimes will pay detention penalties to truckers for waiting time outside the gate, but PNCT won''t. An additional problem for truckers is that port authority police may kick truckers out of the line if they are blocking the flow of traffic on public roads at the port.

PNCT keeps its gate open from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. but has extended the hours until 6 p.m. in recent weeks. "We''ve had only one good week in the last month," said Tom Adamski, CEO of Cross Port Transport in South Kearny, N.J. "You either have to bill the customers for the dead time spent waiting there or start charging a surcharge on the containers you carry to it."

Like the adjacent Maher Terminals and APM Terminals at the Port Newark/Elizabeth complex, PNCT has experienced growing pains in the past couple of years as a result of construction and the reconfiguration of facilities. PNCT, a 50-50 joint venture of P&O Ports and P&O Nedlloyd, has 159 acres of contiguous space and is expanding to 174, not counting off-dock space for empty containers. All three terminals have had to handle growing volumes during the past year even as they were tearing down buildings, constructing new ones and installing more cranes and rail lines to handle growing traffic.

Construction for all the areas that handle truck traffic was completed by last December, Hamm said. "We had to repave the whole area because the pavement wasn''t strong enough to handle the straddle cranes we were buying." PNCT now has 54 straddle cranes and is buying another 10 to move containers around the yard. It has seven cranes for loading and unloading vessels, of which five are post-Panamax, and expects two more to be delivered in the third quarter.

Hamm said PNCT''s volume has increased 1,300 gate moves a day last year through October to 2,300 a day during April "and we''re still finishing on time," he said. "We can handle 200 trucks per hour, 12 hours a day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m."

He said the terminal can''t control when the drivers want to come into the terminal because it doesn''t maintain an appointment system. "The problem is that the drivers, who are 85 percent owner-operators, don''t want to come in after 4:30 in the afternoon," he said.

PNCT plans this month to open another gate to handle deliveries of empty boxes. "It''s a huge expense for us to do that, but we have to," Hamm said. "Right now we''re handling 500 empties and 1,000 full loads coming in for export. If we can get the empties out of the queue, that will ease the congestion."

Beyond this immediate palliative, Hamm hopes to install more technology at PNCT''s gate when the contract with the International Longshoremen''s Association permits. He also wants to establish a common chassis pool among all carriers, many of whom maintain their own chassis at the terminal.

"We have to convince the larger carriers that it''s in their interest to use a chassis pool, but they are always wary of sharing each other''s chassis because each one costs from $5,000 to $7,000," Hamm said.