Once skeptical of appointment systems, truckers at the Port of New York and New Jersey said GCT Bayonne’s system has slashed turn times to the extent that dual transactions can sometimes be completed in an hour compared with twice that or more in the past.
Drayage operators spoke positively of the system after the terminal expanded the time period in which appointments are required for a truck to enter the terminal by an hour two weeks ago, the third such increase due to demand for appointments. Reservations are now needed between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m., and trucks without appointments can now enter between noon and 4 p.m.
Truckers, who since the first suggestion of an appointment system expressed concern that there were too many factors beyond their control — such as congestion — to allow them to fulfill appointments, said the system has brought fluidity and predictability.
“From where we were before, it’s much better,” said Tom Adamski, agent for First Coast Logistics, who represents the New Jersey Motor Truck Association's intermodal council and who initially was not convinced that the system would improve efficiency. Like other truckers, Adamski, who declined to specify the average turn time, said the fastest turn times are still outliers, rather than the norm.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said GCT Bayonne now handles 1,700 appointments a day. The terminal has said in the past that turn-times through the appointment system are 45 percent faster than those outside the reservation period. As the reservation window has increased to encompass more of the day, that percentage has slipped somewhat.
Transactions that occur during the appointment period are now 25 percent faster than during the non appointment period, John Atkins, president of GCT USA said. Trucks can do a double move in 60 minutes, and less than 45 minutes for a single transaction, he said. The steady embrace of the program by truckers means that 58 percent of trucks that now go through the terminal have appointments, Atkins said.
“Trucker utilization of the reservation system has dictated how appointment hours are extended,” he said. “We will continue to respond to demand and extend GCT Bayonne reservation hours accordingly.”
One factor that has helped improve the program, is the reduction in appointments that are booked but not used, Atkins said. Terminal officials, for example, have urged truckers that make an appointment but are unable to use it to alert the terminal in advance so that the appointment can be offered to another truckers. That effort, along with the fact that “word of the quick turn times has spread among the drayage community,” has helped reduce the no-show rate from 15 percent early on in the program to 8 percent now, Atkins said.
Port authority officials note that the terminal turn times have improved even as the port has seen a steady increase in cargo volumes. Figures released by the authority this week show the port handled a record 361,565 containers, or 631,404 TEU, in August, and has handled 3,174,078 loaded TEUs through the first eight months of 2017, a 5 percent increase on last year.
Jeff Bader, president of the Association of Bi State Motor Carriers, who also was outspoken in the belief that the program’s would create problems, said his company can do a double move in under an hour, substantially below in the past. None of the terminals, or the port authority, make public statistics on how long truckers have to spend getting in and out of terminals. However, turn times of two hours are not uncommon.
“As it stands right now today, Global terminal has improved its level of service since it instituted the appointment system,” Bader said. He added that Maher Terminals, which does not have an appointment system, has also improved, to the point where a truck can get two or three turns in and out of the terminal in a day.
“Any time you implement something new, there is always going to glitches here and there,” said Steve Schulein, vice president of drayage and industry relations at National Retail Transportation in North Bergen, New Jersey. “But as far as I am concerned, and most of the trucking community, we have improved our turn times, we can plan our operations better.”
“It’s not a question of blindly getting in line at four o’clock in the morning and hope we get out in four or five hours,” he said. “We can plan our drivers, our appointments and everything else. So as far as I am concerned, the appointment system works.”
The success of the appointment system comes at a critical time for the port, as it waits to see if the raising of the Bayonne Bridge and the expansion of the Panama Canal results in the expected steady flow of mega-vessels calling at the port. That could help reverse the market share slippage that the port has seen in recent years. Although New York-New Jersey is still the largest port on the East Coast by some margin, its share of the coastal market has declined from 33.5 percent of all loaded imports and exports in 2010, to 29 percent in 2016. Of the important Asian import market, the port’s east coast share of loaded imports fall from 43 percent in 2010 to 36 percent in 2016.
The port has in recent years suffered from sporadic congestion and delays, and truck turn-times that are much longer than some competitors in the South East. To help prepare for the big ships, port terminal operators have spent about $2 billion on upgrades, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and federal government have spent $4.7 billion on dredging, rail access, and other projects, including raising the Bayonne Bridge.
Until June, the bridge was too low to allow ships more than 9,500 to pass below, and so prevented them docking at three of the port’s four main terminals. Only GCT Bayonne could handle larger ships. Since the June opening of the elevated bridge — raised from 151 feet to 215 feet — a string of ships able to take more than 10,000 TEUs has come into the port, including the 14,400 TEU CMA CGM T. Roosevelt on Sept. 7.
The appointment system was one of three key initiatives proposed to help the port handle the expected surges of cargo volume by the port’s Port Performance Council, which was created three years ago to find ways to improve efficiency. A second proposal, a “gray” chassis pool that would provide truckers with access to any chassis in the port’s three competing pools, collapsed in July. A proposal to extend gate hours has not come to fruition.
Appointment programs with a similar goal have been implemented elsewhere around the nation. Seven of the 13 container terminals in the Los Angeles-Long Beach ports have appointment systems, and at least two more are expected to come online this year. Oakland International Container Terminal, the largest terminal in Oakland, started an appointment system last year, and a voluntary truck reservation system has been in operation for several years at Virginia International Gateway. Moreover, the federal government just awarded the Port of Virginia a $1.55 million grant to help develop technology for the phased implementation of a truck reservation system.
At Vancouver, one of the first ports to require truck reservations, officials are studying a tiered system that would allow motor carriers with high volumes to have first shot at appointment slots, or allow a shipper needed to move large volumes at once to pay more for speed gates.
The idea behind all of the systems is to smooth out the peaks and valleys of random truck traffic, and spread the arrival of cargo throughout the day, reducing congestion and avoiding slack periods in which labor and cranes are underused.
The New York-New Jersey appointment system, which was funded and developed by a conference of all of the port’s six terminals, will likely be implemented in the other terminals if it works at Global Container Terminal. Two other terminals at the port — APM Terminals and Port Newark Container Terminal — are expected to install it when they finish gate upgrades.
How much more the GCT Bayonne appointment window will be expanded is unclear. Adamski said he thinks the terminal should hold off expanding it any more. “You’ve got to have the ambiguity with the four or five hours (left without an appointment window), for the guys that have last minute requests and the guys who are coming of the road and hit traffic — so that they have the ability to go and pick up a load.”
Bader also cautioned that the fact that the system works at one terminal does not mean it will work port-wide, with appointments required at all terminals and no access for trucks that don’t have them.
“We don’t know what the ramifications are going to be,” he said. “I don’t know if it will work or it won’t work.