Volumes of delivery trucks on the road—from tractor-trailers to smaller box trucks—are increasing, alongside an upswing of cargo volumes at the region’s ports. Given that transportation is the second highest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide, lowering the carbon footprint of the supply chain has become an increasing priority for organizations, including maritime ports and their logistics partners. Today, behind the gates of working ports in New York and New Jersey, you will find that trucks play another essential role in the supply chain and are also piloting energy pathways to create more sustainable operations.
Drayage trucks at a port serve as a multimodal connection, moving cargo specific distances within or radiating from the marine terminal. Particularly, with shorter off-highway routes within port facilities, it’s manageable for these yard trucks to run on electricity, and in the Port of New York and New Jersey, some already do.
For more than a decade, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has voluntarily worked to improve air quality and remains committed to doing more. At the same time, local advocates and environmental justice organizations have been pushing for electrification through the Coalition for Healthy Ports. While the volume of cargo coming through the port has increased over the years, there have been major reductions in emissions associated with port activity, particularly through trucking.
These advances have been backed by federal and state initiatives. Last year, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to announce plans to adopt California’s Advanced Clean Truck rules which aim to phase out sales of diesel trucks. In February, Governor Murphy announced the state of New Jersey’s $100 Million Investment in Clean Transportation Projects. Leveraging proceeds from participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Funds, this funding will bring electrification programs, equitable mobility projects, and electric charging infrastructure to environmental justice communities across the state.
The first drayage operator on New York Harbor to commit to and invest in electric trucks, Best Transportation, based in Port Newark, New Jersey, has long recognized the important connection between port operations and port neighbors. “Particularly since there’s some time the vehicle engine is idling during drayage,” explains company president Tom Heimgartner, “we know that that electric yard trucks help achieve significant emissions reductions, and we’re trying very hard to support environmental justice for our surrounding communities.” In 2019, Best Transportation piloted using an electric truck to deliver goods from the marine terminal to a Costco wholesale location in New Jersey, earning the honor of being the first trucking company to move a container from the Port of New York and New Jersey using an electric vehicle.
At Red Hook Terminals’ Port Newark facility, the largest heavy-duty battery electric truck deployment is yet taking place now with the assistance of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection. Terminal president Mike Stamatis added details, “Working with Climate Change Mitigation Technologies, LLC, and through partnership with our local dealer, Hudson County Motors, we’re bringing BYD electric yard tractors to the port, establishing leadership in zero-emission terminal operations on the U.S. East Coast.”
But before the vision of medium and heavy-duty electric trucks can become a widespread reality and continue to increase environmental justice for port neighbors, there are challenges to overcome. Currently the range of electric trucks is relatively short, though industry leaders like Best Transportation have made advance orders investing in the development of longer-range vehicles. Electric trucks are also currently three to four times more expensive than conventional models, so efforts such as Red Hook Terminals working with distributors can help improve the economy of scale. Additional charging stations will need to be installed to provide the power needed to move truck loads. With these steps and more to go into research and development, and in infrastructure, grant funding and incentives will continue to be necessary to help shift the sector towards zero emissions.
The logistics and delivery companies who rely on drayage operators report positive feedback about these efforts to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the supply network. There are also workforce opportunities with the increased use of electric trucks, from design to mechanics. “Governor Murphy’s bold action is not only an investment in our climate, but it will also create innovative job opportunities that will impact New Jersey workers for decades to come,” said New Jersey Department of Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo.
There is complex work ahead, not just in preparing for jobs of the future, but also with respect to electrification infrastructure. As more viable electric options for various types of port equipment come into production, terminal operators and government agencies will have to plan for necessary electric infrastructure to be added to the flood plain to create sustainably powered maritime access to the harbor, overcoming challenges in coastal resilience and permitting. Recently, tragic events in the southern states have highlighted that preparing the power grid for climate change is an intricate, though critical, matter. These first electric vehicles in the Port of New York and New Jersey are paving the way for renewable energy to help power the regional supply chain and steer our port onto this road to reduced emissions.