GCT Bayonne plans next month to launch the Port of New York and New Jersey’s first appointment system for trucks at terminals.
Initially, appointments will be scheduled for only the first two hours after truck gates open at 6 a.m. That’s when congestion is worst, because of the hundreds of trucks that line up before dawn and overwhelm the terminal’s gate and yard capacity.
Rich Ceci, vice president of information technology at GCT USA, which runs the Bayonne terminal, said appointments will be for one-hour windows, with a half-hour of grace time before and after. He said the system will be tweaked as necessary.
Motor carriers are skeptical. They worry that unpredictable traffic or delays at one terminal will cause them to miss an appointment at another terminal. They also cite problems such as chassis availability and difficulty matching appointments at terminals with delivery windows at distribution centers.
“Appointment systems will place an unfair burden on truckers, with no guarantee that turn times will improve,” said Jeff Bader, president of Golden Carriers and of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers.
Speaking at the JOC’s Port Performance North America conference Wednesday, he said appointment systems shouldn’t be established until terminals’ performance is accurately measured and “until turn times port-wide are consistent enough for truckers to plan their work schedule.”
Ceci said appointments are the only way to match truck traffic with terminal capacity. Today it’s common for as many as 600 trucks to line up in the mornings outside GCT Bayonne gates that can handle only 300 trucks an hour.
The morning surge of trucks congests the terminal, slowing container yard operations. “The problem is when eight hours’ worth of work turns up in the first hour of the day,” Ceci said.
GCT Bayonne last year opened a $325 million expansion featuring high-speed, remote-controlled cranes to serve 10 container stacks. Terminal officials say the technology works, but they’ve been frustrated by the inability to use it fully.
Ceci said it’s common for dozens of truckers to line up for containers from one stack while cranes at adjacent stacks sit idle, effectively reducing the terminal’s daily capacity. He said appointments will allow the terminal to distribute trucks more evenly among stacks and to serve more trucks per hour.
Terminal officials say they distribute import boxes among the stacks but that without appointments they have no way of knowing which trucks will be arriving to pick up which boxes, or when.
Truckers have complained about long turn times at GCT Bayonne, the only New York-New Jersey terminal able to handle ships too large to pass under the Bayonne Bridge until the raising of the bridge’s roadway is completed in late 2017.
A truck reservation system was among the chief recommendations of a port performance task force in 2014. Although GCT Bayonne will be first to test appointments, other port terminals plan to follow.
Many motor carriers want terminals to extend gate hours before requiring truck appointments. New York-New Jersey terminals operate around the clock, but gates normally are open only on weekdays, except for exceptionally busy periods. Extended hours require costly overtime for longshore labor.
Bethann Rooney, assistant director, port commerce, at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said many distribution centers in the region aren’t open for night deliveries. She said it makes little sense to extend hours when current hours aren’t fully utilized.
Bader said drivers queue up outside terminals before gates open in order to meet customers’ mid-day delivery windows. “We all have our bosses, and our boss is our customer,” he said. “And our boss says we need that container as soon as you can get it.”
He said requiring appointments during the first hours a terminal is open will simply push congestion to later in the morning. “Instead of 4 a.m., it will be 10 a.m.,” he said. Motor carriers’ dispatch of drivers also is driven by the need to pick up boxes before free storage time expires and demurrage charges begin.
Ceci said the appointment system that GCT Bayonne plans to pilot will help the terminal make containers available for pickup before free time expires. “We plan on making enough time available so that the truckers will have plenty of time within the free time they’re allotted to come pick up the box,” he said. “But they might not be able to pick it up at 6 a.m. They might have to pick it up at 11 a.m.”
One of the trickiest challenges has been finding a way to determine which arriving trucks have appointments and which don’t. Ceci said a computer application has been developed to help with this.
GCT Bayonne has been coordinating the development of its appointments with similar efforts at Virginia International Terminals, which like the Bayonne terminal uses semi-automated stacking cranes. Ceci worked on development of VIT before managing the expansion and modernization of GCT Bayonne, which previously was known as Global Terminals.
Virginia officials are testing appointments on a voluntary basis with truckers, and are continuing to work with motor carriers and other parties to iron out problems before launching the system. No date has been announced for full implementation.
Ceci said appointments will require changes in the way terminals, truckers and cargo owners manage their business. He said he’s confident GCT Bayonne’s appointments will succeed. If they don’t, he said, the worst that would happen would be “that we’d be back to where we are now.”