One of the nation's top retail industry trade groups today urged the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to act quickly to ease congestion at the nation's third busiest port that has resulted in cargo backlogs and ultimately delays in getting goods on store shelves.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), in a letter to port officials, said the bi-state agency must "provide immediate and direct relief" for port users that have been increasingly frustrated over the past few months with growing backlogs and delays. The port has created a task force to address its problems. However, RILA noted that the task force report isn't scheduled for release until June. "Considering the current impact that the port disruption is having on retailers' supply chains, the situation needs to be alleviated immediately," said Kelly Kolb, RILA's vice president for government affairs, in the letter.
RILA suggested that terminal operators staff up for two-shift operations at a minimum—including weekends and holidays—until normal operations resume. The port should beef up traffic oversight to mitigate the ripple effect of long queues at one terminal affecting other locations, RILA said. Inspections of chassis should be conducted in a way that only equipment presenting an immediate safety hazard should be taken out of service, RILA said. The group also called for the suspension of all user charges for delays relating to the port's problems until operations return to normal.
"The backlog has become untenable, and retailers cannot afford to wait for improvements," Kolb said. The RILA statement did not quantify the duration of delays or the cost of the delays on shippers and beneficial cargo owners (BCOs). A RILA spokesman was unavailable for comment.
The port has been plagued with congestion problems for months. However, the situation worsened over the holidays and then into the early part of 2014 due to harsh winter weather. The problem was compounded by off-schedule vessel arrivals due to the inclement weather on both oceans, causing unexpected delays across its operations.
CONGESTION IN VIRGINIA
New York is not the only port coping with congestion problems. The Port of Virginia has formed a task force to determine how to improve the efficiency of trucks operating to and from its terminals. Volume growth at the port has put increased pressure on truckers to move goods in and out in a timely manner, the port said.
One of the first issues on the task force's agenda is the implementation of an "appointment system" for truckers that is hoped would balance the flow of daily traffic at the terminals and would eliminate a "rush hour" effect, officials said.
Joe Harris, a spokesman for the port authority, said bad weather in the region has resulted in long wait times for drivers looking to exit the port and for those trying to "flip" a chassis and secure a new load. The port was also hampered by what Harris called "poor spacing" between vessel calls, which resulted in multiple ships calling in a very compressed time period and causing backups in its rail and truck operations.
Harris acknowledged that "we're having periods where the wait times are far in excess of what we're used to seeing."