The commerce flowing through our ports represents billions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs. All too frequently it comes to a standstill — in part because truckers can’t get their cargo to the docks. And the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers predicts “catastrophic congestion” if changes aren’t made. NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams recently asked Truckers Association President Jeffrey Bader what’s causing the congestion.
Williams: Thanks for being with us.
Bader: Thank you for having me.
Williams:What’s the cause of the congestion?
Bader: Currently it’s the volume that’s going through the ports and the infrastructure being not up to the standard they need to be for the port to be more efficient.
Williams: So, how’s it working? There’s one long line of truck traffic that has to go into one entrance?
Bader: Well, There are multiple terminals at the port. Each terminal is a private entity that wants to turn around and do as much business as they can. What’s happening is certain terminals are more competitive than other terminals. Those terminals are being more successful in getting the business to come to their terminal. When that happens it creates a major influx of trucks going to those terminals. Not only on the transportation side but the water side, the ships are coming, they’re a lot faster and the containers are getting all flooded and … on the ground causing less space to be able to be utilized, to be able to allow the trucks on the terminals.
Williams: And bigger ships are about to come in because once the Bayonne Bridge reopens the draw bridge will be taller for taller ships to come in?
Bader: Sure, the largest ships coming in are going to come in probably 30 percent more containers on them exacerbating this problem.
Williams: What do you think needs to be done?
Bader: The first primary solution is extending the gate hours, something very simple. Terminals should be open from 6 o’clock in the morning until 9 o’clock at night Monday through Friday. When times are needed as some terminals are doing today, Saturday and Sunday gates should be an option.
Williams: I’m not hearing you say that you need infrastructure changes.
Bader: The infrastructures are being changed by the private concerns that own the terminals today, that own the operations of the terminals today. We do see millions and millions of dollars being invested in that infrastructure. So I think that’s happening in spite of the constant congestion at the ports today.
Williams: You’ve talked about minimum levels of service. What does that mean?
Bader: That’s one of my primary things that I’ve been saying for the last 20 some odd years since I’ve been involved in the association and my own private company that I’m involved with.
Williams: What are minimum levels?
Bader: The Port Authority should have a level of service commitment as they do on the water side on the truck side. Where they have to do X amount of lifts per hour in order to be able to be profitable, in order to be able to meet the standards of what’s required by the container shipping lines.
Williams: But as you say these are private companies that are accepting all these trucks so…
Bader: The Port Authority owns the property. They lease it to a private company. In those lease agreements I’ve been a big fan of forcing the terminal operators and the Port Authority to have that level of service commitment in their leases that say if they don’t do this, then this happens. For instance, if they don’t unload a ship fast enough they get penalized by the steam ship lines for having that ship in the berth for so many extra hours and that’s a financial burden on them. We have absolutely nothing. If we don’t pick up a container in time, we have huge charges that we get. For that kind of stuff.
Williams: What’s at stake if this doesn’t get fixed?
Bader: The port is going to continue to deteriorate. The industry itself is shrinking. There are not enough drivers to handle the operation today. We’ve lost a tremendous amount of them over people just don’t want to go into this business. They don’t want to invest $15,000 to $75,000 for a truck to go sit on line for six or seven hours and not being able to make multiple moves in a course of a day. So they’re leaving the industry for other things that they can make more money at.
Williams: And how does that affect commerce on the eastern seaport?
Bader: We’re not going to be able to service the accounts. It’s going to continue to deteriorate unless we can figure out a way to make our ports more productive.
Williams: Jeff Bader, thanks for being here.
Bader: My pleasure.