NY-NJ truckers: New year, same chassis problems

New York-New Jersey port truckers say chassis shortages and dislocations have continued into 2015 while industry officials work to develop a port wide pool of interchangeable “gray” chassis by mid-year.

Truckers at Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers said chassis shortages have worsened since the holidays.

Several drayage company officials said their drivers are forced to scrounge for chassis and accept defective units that must be repaired before they can be taken on the road.

“We’re spending half a day just to get a chassis that we’ve paid for,” said John Kruse, owner of J-Way Co. in Hillside, New Jersey. He said waiting on the repairs is a waste of drivers’ time and is akin to renting a car, then having to take it to the shop for an oil change.

Container lessors blame shortages of International Longshoremen’s Association mechanics at terminals, equipment dislocations following the holidays, and hoarding of equipment by truckers worried about chassis availability. Lessors say they’re paying copious amounts of overtime to mechanics, and are bringing in newer chassis to replace worn-out units.

Chassis have been a source of contention since most ocean carriers began exiting chassis ownership and transferred their chassis to leasing companies. The transition, which began five years ago, has been bumpy, especially in port areas such as New York-New Jersey and Los Angeles-Long Beach.

New York-New Jersey chassis problems have been aggravated by shortages of mechanics, especially at marine terminals. Terminals’ mechanics often are pulled away from basic readability repairs and reassigned to more-urgent tasks such as work on refrigerated containers.

Beth Rooney, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s assistant director for port performance initiatives, acknowledged the difficulty that truckers face with chassis but said the planned portwide chassis pool should alleviate many of the problems.

The Council on Port Performance, an industrywide group working to implement recommendations of a port performance task force, will launch the port wide pool by the middle of this year.

The pool will be centrally managed, and will allow full interchange of chassis among the three lessors that now provide most chassis in the port. Other chassis providers also could participate in the gray pool.

“We’re all aware of the problems,” Rooney said. “Is there a plan in place? Yes. Is it taking longer than we’d like? Yes. But we’re we’re making good progress toward having a gray chassis pool. I can see the horizon now.”