NY/NJ port reports strong March
The Port of New York and New Jersey handled 754,093 TEU in the first quarter of 2014, 2.4-percent more than in the same period last year.
Cargo volumes were up because of a rebound in March, when 280,519 TEU moved through the port, 10.5-percent more than in March 2013. In January and February of this year, container volumes were off by 0.4 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.
It was the second best March in the port's history and was almost 15-percent higher than the average March between 2009 and 2013, said Richard Larrabee, director of the Port Authority's Port Commerce Department.
“March was a very good month for us coming out of, as you know, a very difficult winter for us,” he said, referring to port operations being snarled by heavy snow and chassis shortages.
In the first three months, imports were up 5.2 percent to 393,631 TEU, while exports were down 0.5 percent to 360,462 TEU.
The rise in imports is an indication that the economy is getting better, said Larrabee, who noted that the number of export empties are up about 11 percent.
“That to us is sort of a leading indicator that the economy is getting better and that we’re going to see those boxes come back full in the next couple of months,” said Larrabee.
The number of containers moving through the port’s Express Rail facilities were also up this year over 2013 — three percent for the first three months to 104,372 and 11.9 percent in March to 41,440.
Larrabee explains that the port views the increase in intermodal rail volumes as an indicator of the port’s competitiveness because most of the cargo moving by rail is moving to and from locations in the Midwest where shippers have a choice of using several ports.
“The discretionary market is very important to us particularly as we think about growth going forward, and so the rail numbers were clearly a positive for us,” he said.
The New York/New Jersey market share of U.S. container cargo through February 2014 was 13.3 percent, compared to 13.1 percent in February 2013. Larrabee said that may be partially a reflection of the growth in trans-Suez services from Asia.
For the entire year, Larrabee said the port is looking for about a 3-percent-to-4-percent increase in cargo.
The coming few months promise to be pivotal for the Port of New York and New Jersey.
Truckers have faced lengthy delays getting containers in and out of terminals; these delays have been blamed at various times on weather, shortages of workers, chassis (because of lack of mechanics to fix them), and computer problems.
Because of congestion at the port last year and this winter, Larrabee said, “Very frankly, I think we need to prove ourselves to our customers that service in New York is becoming more and more reliable and that we’re going to be able to get through the summer without any problems like we had last year.”
Last summer, a problem installing a new computer system at Maher Terminal, the port’s largest, and a shortage of longshoremen during the summer vacation period were two of the factors that contributed to delays getting containers in and out of port terminals.
He does not expect port congestion to be as big an issue this summer, noting that Maher has its operating system problem “well in hand, and they’re making progress toward full implementation.”
He also noted that despite a disagreement among the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, the New York Shipping Association and International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) over hiring practices, longshoremen are being added to the workforce, and some ILA workers have agreed to postpone their planned retirements until November and not take summer vacations.
“The feeling, in general, is that the workforce has become more stable, and we will get through the summer with an adequate supply of labor,” he said.
Larrabee said there has been an effort by leasing companies that provide chassis to bring extra equipment to New York.
In December 2013, the port authority formed a Port Performance Task Force to take a detailed look at how to improve operations in the port, forming five working groups to look at terminal optimization, intermodal equipment, the ExpressRail operations, drayage, and government and community outreach. He said all five working groups are making good progress and the task force will make recommendations by the end of next month.
“Once that happens, we need to move from a recommendation phase to an execution phase,” he said.
“People have spent a lot of time thinking about each one of their areas of responsibility, and from what we’ve seen, I’m optimistic that we’re going to be able to put together a set of solid recommendations that are agreed to by everybody, and we can move forward,” he said. “The real value in this task force is that we’ve got all of the right stakeholders — including the ILA and the trucking community and the BCOs — in these discussions.
“The challenge for the task force is going to be to take these recommendations and integrate them together, and come up with a prioritized list of steps that we need to take. The other part of the task force work is to come up with a set of key performance indicators that we feel are representative of how we’re doing. We’ve felt all along that we need to be able to measure our progress and be able to demonstrate that in a quantifiable way.”
Larrabee noted that the port has been implementing a RFID system in the port and now has 17,000 trucks that have been equipped with RFID.
“We’re still going through the testing phase to make sure there are no glitches in that system, but we’re confident that we’re going to be able to get RFID up and running," he said, "and that will help in a lot of areas in terms of how trucks are processed.”
Global Terminal, he added, “has already demonstrated the value of RFID with the way they operate these days, and we’re looking forward to them getting up and running with their new technology in the next month or two.”
Global is doubling the capacity of its terminal to 1.1 million TEU through the installation 20 semi-automated rail mounted gantries, a fleet of new shuttle carriers, and automated gates. The facility, one of the most advanced, is to complete its first commercial lifts next month and to be fully operational by the end of the summer.
This weekend, the Port Newark Container Terminal expects the arrival of three super post-panamax cranes from China. A joint venture of Ports America and Terminal Investment Ltd, PNCT is in the process of expanding from 259 acres to 300 acres.
The port is also in the midst of modifying the Bayonne Bridge, raising its roadway so larger ships can pass beneath it, and Larrabee believes once that is completed the port is "going to see a rapid changeover to larger vessels.” As those ships begin to port, he noted that larger quantities of cargo are going to be discharged. “That is ultimately what we are all focused on now, how we can operate differently and make the operation work more smoothly and more reliably,” he said.
A recent story in the Albany Times Union noted that transportation planners are looking once again at the possibility of moving containers by barge up the Hudson River or even beyond. Such a service was tried a decade ago.
Lenis Rodrigues, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, confirmed that the agency “is working with the Port of Albany to try to understand whether industry practices that precluded the 2003 - 2006 Albany Express Barge operation from achieving success have sufficiently changed to allow for a more successful operation today."