NY-NJ truckers wary as chassis depot exits APM Terminals

NY-NJ truckers wary as chassis depot exits APM Terminals

An APM Terminals crane loads containers onto a vessel in June, with the newly elevated Bayonne Bridge in the background. Photo credit: Hugh R. Morley.

A decision by APM Terminals to stop storing chassis at its Port of New York and New Jersey terminal to make space for increased cargo volumes expected from mega-ship arrivals has raised truckers’ concern that the move could lengthen cargo drop off and pick up time.

APM Terminals, which needs the space for an ongoing $200 million upgrade, is the last of the four main terminals in the East Coast’s largest port to remove chassis from their respective terminals. The elevation of the Bayonne Bridge means that 14,400 TEU ships now stop at the port, raising questions as to how the port’s chassis providers would handle the surges of cargo unloaded from several such ships — or larger — in succession, or simultaneously.

From Monday, chassis providers TRAC Intermodal and Direct ChassisLink Inc. (DCLI) will no longer store chassis at APM Terminals, and all their chassis must instead be returned to two nearby locations, Elizabeth Chassis Depot, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and C&C Maintenance in Newark, New Jersey. Chassis can be picked up at the terminal until Jan. 15, when all chassis will be picked up from the two yards.

Providing a smooth pick up and drop off of chassis is seen by port stakeholders as key to the port’s future efficiency, and moving the chassis depot out of APM Terminals is the latest of several changes in the way chassis are supplied at the port. Most prominently, port stakeholders are trying to jumpstart a stalled effort to create a “gray” chassis pool that would enable chassis from any supplier to be delivered and picked up at locations throughout the port.

However, no new plan emerged at a meeting of port stakeholders, known as the Port Performance Council, last month, according to recently released minutes. The council was expected to discuss several ways to advance the effort after an agreement between DCLI and Flexi-Van collapsed in July.

Ron Joseph, senior vice president and chief operating officer for DCLI, said Wednesday that although the company pulled out of the talks in large part due to the uncertainty created by its need to move from APM Terminals, the provider is not ready to begin talks again now that it is moving to the Elizabeth Chassis Depot.

“We will look at it at some point. We haven’t right now because there have been so many changes,” Joseph said. “Once this has been operating for a period of time, we will take a look at it again.”

Truckers said the impact of moving the chassis depot from APM Terminals to the other two terminals will not be clear for a while.

“Now we have to go to another location to get a chassis,” said Steve Schulein, vice president of drayage and industry relations for National Retail Systems, in North Bergen, New Jersey. “It doesn’t make it any easier. It’s another stop.

“If the lines at the chassis depots are ok, it’s going to add a little time,” he said. “But if they get backed up that creates a secondary problem for us. Any time you have to go to two locations to complete a move, it’s a problem.”

Joseph said that despite the extra move, truckers may find quicker service at the intermodal equipment provider's (IEP’s) terminal. That is because chassis at APM Terminals were inspected for roadability on the way out, forcing truckers to wait for repairs or find another chassis if a problem was discovered, he said. The new terminal will inspect the chassis when they are dropped off, he said.

“Even though it might be another stop, it could result in a better turn time,” Joseph said. “If they get a better road-ready chassis at the new Elizabeth yard, they get through the outbound faster.”

Rob Movshin, regional manager at Northeast Container Port Group at the New York-New Jersey port, said the move may not make much difference, especially if IEPs have higher quality equipment at the yards.

“If the flow of the equipment is good, and the IEPs are better able to provide opportunities so that every time you go in you have good equipment, it’s not a bad thing,” he said. But any delays in the extra move could be problematic, especially after the enactment of a federal law this month that requires truckers to more closely document their time with an electronic logging device (ELD), Movshin said.

“If drivers are going to consistently leave the pier in order to make swaps in an ELD environment, it could be disastrous,” he said.

The movement of chassis from APM Terminals comes six weeks after the revitalization of the Elizabeth Chassis Depot, in which the arrival of a new operator — Columbia Container Services — meant the yard could handle chassis used to service any terminal in the port. The previous operator, Maher Terminals, handled chassis that only served its own terminal, and some truckers welcomed the change as a step towards a portwide pool.

Even without a portwide gray pool, several truckers said that the flow of chassis has recently been relatively smooth, even as the number of mega-ships stopping at the port has increased since the completion of a project to raise the height of the Bayonne Bridge from 151 feet to 215 feet. Prior to the elevation, ships of no more than 9,500 TEU could pass under the bridge and reach three of the port’s four main terminals — APM Terminals, Maher Terminals, and Port Newark Container Terminal.

Since the completion of the $1.6 billion project in June, 50 ships that previously could not have passed under the bridge have reached those terminals, and port officials say ships up to 18,000 TEU can now enter, although nothing larger than 14,400 TEU has done so. The current flow of big ships, however, is considered much lower than what is expected in the future, and so has not really tested the port logistically.

The Port Performance Council, a group of port stakeholders that aims to improve efficiency at the port, concluded at its November meeting that “chassis availability and marine terminal operations have improved,” according to recently released minutes of the meetings, which are not open to the public. The minutes said there had been no sign of chassis shortages during the peak shipping season over the summer, but added that the port “cannot become complacent because volume surges are expected.”

Contact Hugh R. Morley at Hugh.Morley@ihsmarkit.com and follow  him on Twitter: @HughRMorley_JOC.