Port of NY-NJ Faces New Challenges with Increasing Cargo Volumes

With the completion of the $1.6 billion Bayonne Bridge Elevation Project in June, the Port of New York-New Jersey (NY-NJ) immediately became an attractive destination for the next generation of container ships to the port. With the raised bridge, the port has open pathways to reach each of the four main terminals and can handle up to 18,000 TEUs. Previously, the port was only able to service vessels with less than 9,500-TEUs due to the low height of the bridge, which left three of the terminals inaccessible. Unfortunately, the prospect of increased cargo volumes also brings port congestion with it. However, the demise of some of the port’s enhancement initiatives unrelated to its construction improvements is leading to more questions than answers on how the port will handle the expected surge in volume from larger ships.

As the era of the megaships, begins to take hold of the Port of NY-NJ, there are concerns regarding the port’s capabilities to address the volume from these large vessels by handling drayage issues, driver problems, and gate and terminal operations. One of the most significant problems facing the Port of NY-NJ is the diminishing number of drivers wanting to offer services for containers coupled with the failed implementation of a port-wide trucker appointment system to improve pick-up and drop-off times. The port is plagued by long turn times and over two hours for truck queues. Unlike the Port of Oakland, the Port of NY-NJ does not provide 24-hour access to the terminals. Even though Oakland charges a $30 gate fee per shipment, the Port of NY-NJ could take a small step forward without additional charges by merely extending its gate hours, as well as staggering delivery and pick-up times.

Making matters worse for the Port of NY-NJ was the recent collapse this summer of a three-year effort for a shared chassis pool, which was an essential component to address port congestion and prepare for the advent of larger vessels arriving at the port. In this new era of megaships, a better chassis pool through the universal availability of chassis would improve productivity at the port. This port-wide pool initiative was recommended by a 2014 port performance task force to streamline the process used by truckers to pick-up and deliver chassis. With this chassis pool in place, a trucker would be able to provide a chassis to one terminal and pick-up another one at a different pool or terminal. As a result, truckers would see reduced turn times by making it easier and more efficient to get trucks and containers in and out of the terminals.

Although this initiative seemed to be a significantly high priority for helping improve the port’s efficiency, disagreements among equipment providers, along with the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) control over equipment maintenance and repair attributed to the delay in setting up the pool. After plans to combine a fleet of 8,000 chassis between Flexi-Van Leasing and Direct ChassisLink fell through this summer, the East Coast’s largest port is without full chassis interoperability only four months after the Bayonne Bridge opened to allow larger vessels to pass below it. So, the Port of NY-NJ is back to square one after the termination of the shared pool venture and will need to find a solution similar to the proven models at other ports to create an interoperable chassis pool for enhancing efficiency.