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Ports see record revenue amid abiding challenges

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North Jersey ports have inherent strengths and weaknesses, such as tight waterfront locations that are nonetheless well-placed for transfer to land-based distributors.
North Jersey ports have inherent strengths and weaknesses, such as tight waterfront locations that are nonetheless well-placed for transfer to land-based distributors. - ()

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, or PANYNJ, says last year’s cargo volumes at North Jersey ports shattered the existing annual cargo volume record set in 2015 by 5.3 percent.

The numbers reflect some inherent strengths of Port Newark and related ports, including their geographical advantages. But there are challenges.

“Port Newark and the New York Harbor are often the first port of call on the East Coast, and about 75 percent of the vessels coming to the East Coast will first arrive at a PANYNJ port,” said Erik Holck, director of business development at Port Jersey Logistics, a Cranbury-based provider of warehousing, transportation and other services. “New Jersey and New York are densely populated, and close to major transportation networks, so goods that come in can easily be transported out. And we’re within a two-day trip to nearly half of the U.S. population.”

But the local facilities are facing off against at least two other ports, in Norfolk, Va., and Savannah, Ga. In response, the PANYNJ has assembled a task force — the Council on Port Performance — to connect all the players in the port operations and recommend ways to make port operations even more efficient.

John Nardi, president of the Edison-based trade group New York Shipping Association, says most container-cargo activity is in the Newark-Elizabeth and Jersey City-Bayonne port areas. He acknowledged that greater land availability around Norfolk and Savannah makes for growth initiatives that ever-raise the competitive stakes.


Direct jobs involved in port operations

Total jobs including shipping-related positions

Almost $21B
In jobs-related income

More than $53.8B
In business income

Nearly $7B
In federal, state and local tax revenue, with local and state tax revenues of more than $2.2 billion, and federal tax revenues of nearly $4.8 billion

Source: New York Shipping Association

“But the physical constraints have forced us to be more efficient, like stacking containers instead of spreading them out on port terminal property,” stressed Nardi, who is co-chair of the Port Performance Task Force.

“The council includes truckers, terminal operators, ocean carriers, the Port Authority, labor associations and other stakeholders,” he said. “At our most recent meeting in December, we suggested initiatives like a supply chain analysis to examine optimal operating hours for the port and how to organize a single pool of chassis providers. … We’re also working on a crisis communication plan. This became even more important after a terminal operator was crippled by a cyberattack in 2017.”

In 2017, the global computer system at shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk — which operates a terminal at a New Jersey port — suffered outages following a cyberattack.

The Council on Port Performance is also working on workforce development, and plans to reach out to institutions and students about opportunities in transportation, logistics and distribution.

The to-do list also includes expanding an existing centralized Terminal Information Portal System, or TIPS, that gathers information on the status of ocean containers, said Holck, who has attended council meetings.

He said another solution being explored could solve another challenge at Port Newark: streamlining schedules.

John Nardi, president, New York Shipping Association.
John Nardi, president, New York Shipping Association.

“Only one terminal in the PANYNJ system – Global Container Terminals Bayonne [in Jersey City] – has an appointment system that lets transportation providers schedule a time to come in and retrieve their incoming loaded containers.”

Without it, trucks get backed up because they’re being loaded on a first come, first served basis, and in a high-volume port that can cause severe backups.

“With an appointment system the terminal can tell you when to arrive, and when you get there, your container is in the yard and ready to be loaded onto your truck,” Holck said. “Terminals with an appointment system can often get a truck loaded and out in under an hour, which the Port Performance Task Force claims is 45 percent faster than terminals not using an appointment system.”

Another condition, though, may present more of a challenge.

“Raising the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate larger vessels was a necessity, and it made us more competitive,” Holck said. “But the fact is that while Post Panamax ships bring in more containers with each vessel that arrives in port, this also means that more containers will be moving through the port terminals at any one time, making space constraints more of a concern and more efficient port terminal operations even more vital. “

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