The long-held view among many truckers that chassis rules from intermodal equipment providers (IEPs) hamper drayage efficiency received some official validation from the Federal Maritime Commission’s (FMC’s) latest report on the container supply chain at the Port of New York and New Jersey.
In its latest report on the current status of US ports, the FMC found NY-NJ is in “good shape” overall, but did cite the ongoing difficulty of drayage carriers in making a “double move,” where they can return an empty container before picking up a full container at a marine terminal. In particular, there is a “need to make progress in returning chassis in a manner that facilitates a ‘double move’,” the FMC said in its report, released Tuesday.
The FMC noted the Port Authority and local stakeholders see the issue of facilitating double moves as “a high priority and [are] working to improve the process.” The FMC also urged ocean carriers to get more involved in local stakeholder groups.
Chassis providers dispute accusations that chassis returns limit the ability of drayage drivers to make a double move, saying depots around the port provide an opportunity for truckers to achieve more frequent dual transactions.
Even before the FMC’s comments, drayage carriers in the second-largest US import gateway have increasingly switched to using their own chassis rather than use chassis pools due to the efficiency gains. As a result, IEPs are looking at ways to make chassis pools more competitive against trucker-controlled chassis.
Data suggests ‘multiple gate moves’
Newark-based Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers, which represents drayage carriers and participated in an FMC review of COVID-19 impacts on liner shipping supply chains in US trades, does not track double moves in the NY-NJ port. But anecdotally, many of its members say they are more frequently returning containers to facilities other than their origin.
Data from the PANYNJ shows that the number of truck visits at marine terminals averaged 10,752 per day in May 2020, compared with 8,540 per day in March 2020. But over the same time, total monthly TEU throughput fell to 537,412 in May from 560,830 in March.
The increasing number of gate moves during a time when container volumes fell “would suggest multiple gate moves for each container,” said Tom Heimgartner, chairman of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers and president of Best Transportation.
“What we’d like to do is return the empty box from where we got them,” Heimgartner said. “But much of the time we are doing multiple moves.”
Heimgartner said chassis returns are somewhat separated from empty container return policies mandated by ocean carriers. But chassis splits, where a trucker has to swap out chassis from one pool provider to another while dropping off and picking up containers at different terminals or for different steamship lines, does mean more unproductive trips for drivers.
To that end, more truckers are opting to own or lease their own chassis. Tom Adamski, former president of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, estimates that somewhere between “50 percent and nearing probably two-thirds” of truckers in the New York-New Jersey port now control their own chassis. That compares to less than one-third of truckers using their own chassis in 2018, he added.
“Dexterity of your own chassis offers immeasurable value since you don’t have the drop-and-pick of splits,” he said. “Those are eliminated by the trucker having control over the chassis.”
Val Noel, chief operating officer for chassis provider TRAC Intermodal, countered the FMC’s assertion that chassis returns hamper drayage drivers’ ability to make a double move.
Having TRAC chassis at three depots located between the major NY-NJ marine terminals “greatly improves the flexibility of being able to use a chassis pool for a double move,” he said.
Still, IEPs are continuing to look for ways to make chassis pools more competitive, Noel said.
He said over half of TRAC’s chassis in the NY-NJ region have been upgraded with features that make them more reliable and roadworthy, including better tires, LED lighting, and anti-lock brakes.
Along with better equipment, TRAC and other chassis pools are collaborating with marine terminals to offer “expedited” gates for incoming drayage trucks that are using pool chassis.
“There’s been an effort to enhance the experience of the pool chassis and facilitate a faster turn,” Noel said.
He acknowledges that an increasing number of truckers are using their own chassis for container moves. “[But] by putting a better-quality asset on the street, and improving turn time for drivers, we’re willing to compete for the business,” he said.
Contact Michael Angell at email@example.com.