Leaders of an industry group that proposed far-reaching changes to operations of the Port of New York and New Jersey are starting the more difficult task of deciding how to turn those recommendations into reality.
Truckers and others at a public forum today said quick action is needed to eliminate inefficiencies and chronic delays that have plagued the East Coast’s busiest port for most of the last two years.
Rick Larrabee, the port authority’s top seaport official, said he understands the need for urgency but that many of the proposed reforms are interdependent and must be studied carefully.
“We can’t afford to wake up after making changes and discover unintended consequences that create new problems,” Larrabee said.
More than 250 port users, terminal operators, local officials and others attended a two-hour forum for discussion of 23 recommendations unveiled last month by an industrywide Port Performance Task Force.
Considering the controversial issues involved, the public forum was remarkably tame. Speakers were limited to three minutes, and there was no in-depth discussion of port operations. More than a third of the audience statements were from local politicians and community activists.
The task force was formed in response to series of port disruptions that included Hurricane Sandy in 2012, portwide gridlock last summer after system implementation problems at Maher Terminals, and weather-related delays that staggered port terminals last winter.
A new Council on Port Performance is being organized to develop a sequence for implementation of task force recommendations on chassis, truck arrival notification, communications, measurement of truck turns, and other issues.
“You can’t implement step C before you go through A and B,” said John Nardi, president of the New York Shipping Association and vice chairman of the task force.
The council will hold its organizational meeting next Tuesday. Initial members will be current task force members, but Larrabee said the group will seek ideas and participation from all interested parties. Subgroups will focus on specific issues such as chassis.
Several Newark city officials, New Jersey legislators and communitiy activists complained at the public forum that they hadn’t been included in the task force discussions, which focused on operational issues such as chassis supply.
Several of the non-industry speakers cited air pollution from trucks. Juan Rolon, president of Port drivers Federation 18, an organization of owner-operator drayage drivers, said truckers are unfairly blamed for pollution coming from other sources such as the New Jersey Turnpike near the port.
Most of the audience statements involving port operational issues came from MOTOR carriers urging quicker action to speed the flow of trucks through terminals. Jeff Bader, president of Golden Carriers and of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers, reiterated his organization’s view that truck appointments won’t work without reliable turn times.
Larrabee and Nardi said port performance issues are interrelated, that further discussion will be needed, and that all parties will have to compromise to make the port function more smoothly.
But they said consensus is needed to handle cargo volume growth. “The status quo isn’t going to work,” Nardi said. “We’ve got to take these recommendations and implement them, because the big ships are here already.”