New Jersey’s Ambitious Plan to Clean Up the Port Authority’s Mess

With Bridgegate and the now-fatal underfunding of New Jersey Transit dominating the headlines, it’s easy to forget about other botched infrastructure projects in the Garden State. Take the Port Authority’s incredibly mismanaged and ill-designed trucks replacement program, for example: Launched in 2009, it offered drivers grants to help pay for new, cleaner vehicles — up to $25,000 each. Most drivers make less than $30,000 a year; for many, especially those driving rigs with the older, dirtier-burning engines that the program meant to phase out, it was too good a deal to pass up. But the grant program was at best cosmetic. A new truck costs as much as $100,000; many drivers went into serious debt to cover the upfront capital, some ending up as much as $75,000 in the hole. To minimize the debt burden, the only alternative for many was to purchase trucks that were already years old, with unfamiliar emissions systems needing specialists to fix. Sometimes these replacements died on the side of the Jersey Turnpike.

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More female drayage drivers not enough to reverse driver shortage

The opening of the first bathroom solely for female truck drivers in one of the busiest terminals at the Port of New York and New Jersey this month has highlighted the growing numbers of women drivers in drayage, which could prove vital to ameliorating the driver shortages plaguing the industry.

Although growing in number, women are still a tiny portion of those behind the wheels of the 9,300 trucks registered to go in and out of the Port of New York and New Jersey. Yet industry leaders say women drivers could provide one solution to the shortage of drivers, which is expected to worsen in coming years as baby boomer drivers retire, the volume of containers handled by the port keeps growing and the arrival of ever larger ships challenges terminals to process containers as quickly as possible.

The bathroom at Port Newark Container Terminal immediately caught drivers’ attention. The Port Driver, a Facebook page for drayage drivers, reported the news with the headline “Changes that are good for our port driver community,” adding that it was the first bathroom in any of the port’s four main terminals specifically for female drivers.

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Appropriators back transportation spending bill with trucking fix

The Senate Appropriations Committee easily advanced a transportation spending bill on Thursday containing a trucking provision safety advocates have been pushing against this week.

In a 30-0 vote, lawmakers reported a measure out of committee that would provide $56.5 billion in discretionary spending to the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other related agencies in fiscal 2017.

The figure is $2.9 billion less than the president’s budget request and $827 million less than the current funding level.

The spending bill contains a technical fix to a drafting error made in last year’s government spending bill. A provision in that bill said proposed changes to the hours of service rule for truck drivers — which were enacted in 2013 but later suspended — cannot be implemented until the DOT proves the regulation would improve driver health and safety.

But legislators left out essential language clarifying what would happen if the agency fails to find that the rule is beneficial for drivers, which would force the DOT to revert to rules put in place more than a decade ago.

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N.J. ports reopen to trucks after storm

New Jersey’s ports re-opened to tractor-trailers Wednesday after three days of intense snow-clearing, leading to a familiar sight of truck backups as well as relief that the shutdown was modest compared to the past.

Just three vessels were unloaded since the snowstorm ended, compared to a usual eight to 10 ships over the period, as the operators of the five terminals in New Jersey scrambled to clear away 28 inches of snow, said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

While several trucking company executives said drivers had to wait two or three hours or more to get into the terminals for much of Wednesday, the Port Authority said the main problems occurred early in the morning just after the terminals opened and were largely dissipated after a few hours. In Elizabeth, Maher Terminals extended its operating hours by two hours, to 9 p.m. for the rest of the week, to cope with additional traffic.


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Four NY-NJ port terminals to remain closed Tuesday

The Port of New York and New Jersey’s four largest container terminals plan to remain closed Tuesday for a second day following a weekend storm that buried much of the U.S. Northeast with two or more feet of snow.

The GCT New York terminal on Staten Island and Red Hook Terminal’s facilities in Brooklyn and New Jersey will reopen on Tuesday, but Maher Terminals, APM Terminals, Port Newark Container Terminal and GCT Bayonne do not plan to reopen until Wednesday, the port authority said. Further details were expected Monday after a port authority conference call with terminal, carrier and trucking officials.

Some of the Port of Baltimore’s terminals, including the Maryland Port Administration’s Seagirt and Dundalk terminals, also were closed Monday, but other Baltimore facilities were operating. Philadelphia port terminals also were operating on Monday.

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Environmentalists blast changes in NY-NJ port’s clean-trucks plan

An environmental group criticized as “disgraceful” a plan by the Port of New York and New Jersey to relax a Jan. 1, 2017, deadline for replacement of more than 6,000 port drayage trucks with newer vehicles.

The Coalition for Healthy Ports said the revised clean-air plan that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced last Thursday “will continue to allow older trucks to poison port-adjacent communities and trucking corridors.”

“The PANYNJ decision to virtually abandon its clean-air strategy and its corresponding tariffs truly speaks to the values of the port authority — profits over health at all costs,” the coalition said in a statement.

The revised truck-replacement plan would ban the approximately 400 port trucks with pre-1996 engines after Jan. 1, 2018, but would provide $11.2 million in port and federal funds to support a scrap-and-replace program for these trucks. The plan also would prohibit additional trucks with pre-2007 engines from joining the port’s registry after March of this year. The port authority pledged to continue pursuing additional grants to help finance replacement of older trucks.

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NY-NJ port authority revises truck-replacement plan

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey plans to revise its clean-air plan by lifting a truck-replacement deadline that would have banned more than 6,000 drayage trucks from container terminals next Jan. 1.

Without the proposed changes, trucks with engines from the 2007 or older model years would have been prohibited from entering terminals next year. About 6,100 trucks, or 70 percent of the total serving the port, fall into that category.

Motor carriers had warned that the deadline was impossible to meet and that unless changed would have crippled the East Coast’s largest port, where 85 percent of containers move by truck.

The port authority’s revised plan would:

  • Prohibit trucks with 1994 or 1995 model engines from entering port terminals after Jan. 1, 2018. Trucks with 1993 or older engines already have been phased out.
  • Add $1.2 million in port funds to $9 million in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funds to provide grants of up to $25,000 per truck to support replacement of the port’s 420 trucks that have 1994- or 1995-model engines.
  • Prohibit additional trucks with pre-2007 engines from joining the port’s truck registry after March of this year. This is designed to allow attrition to reduce the number of older, higher-polluting trucks.
  • Create an incentive program to encourage replacement the remaining pre-2007 trucks with newer, less-polluting engines. The port authority will seek additional grants and work with lenders to help truckers secure low-interest loans for replacement of 1996-2006 model engines.


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Port drivers win millions in back pay from trucking firm

A port trucking firm in Carson has been ordered to turn over nearly $7 million in back pay to 38 drivers, the latest in a series of recent wins for port drivers and the Teamsters union that has been trying to organize them.

The state Labor Commissioner’s Office ruled this month that the drivers at Pacific 9 Transportation were improperly treated as independent contractors rather than as employees. It ordered the company to compensate drivers for illegal paycheck deductions, back wages and legal costs, payouts that amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for some.

Though the decision, disclosed Tuesday, affects just a fraction of the nearly 12,000 drivers who haul cargo at the local ports, the order shows that labor organizers are having some success in using employee classification claims to push trucking firms to treat drivers as employees — who, unlike contractors, are allowed to unionize.


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Retailers See Shipping Imports Ending Year on a High Note

Retailers predict that import volumes at the nation’s major container ports will finish the year on a high note despite weak demand during this year’s traditional peak shipping season.

September’s volume of 1.62 million import containers at the nation’s biggest import gateways was up 2.2% from last year and October’s 1.56 million containers was essentially flat, down 0.1% from the same period in 2014, according to the Global Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates LLC released Tuesday.

Volumes in September and October, which usually encompass what retailers call the peak season for import shipments, were both down from August, an early peak during which many ports handled uncommonly high import volumes. Several big retailers reported in the wake of the strong shipping summer that they had overstocked and would try to pare back inventories in the fall.


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NY-NJ ‘gray’ chassis pool awaits deal with ILA

Creation of a centrally managed chassis pool at the Port of New York and New Jersey is awaiting an agreement on labor issues involving International Longshoremen’s Association jurisdiction over maintenance and repair.

Port interests have been working since early 2014 to create the “gray” pool, which would allow truckers to pick up or return chassis at any point served by the three lessors that control most of the 30,000 chassis in the East Coast’s largest port.

TRAC Intermodal, Direct ChassisLink Inc. and Flexi-Van Leasing operate competing pools at the port. Because the pools don’t share equipment, truckers often must make an extra stop to switch chassis between hauls for different customers. The wasted motion adds to costs and congestion at port terminals.

A centrally managed pool with “interoperability” of chassis was among top recommendations of a port performance task force’s 2014 report. An industry-wide Council on Port Performance has been working for more than a year to implement the task force recommendations.


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