NEW YORK -- Buoyed by a strong economy and a reduction in shipping fees, the port of New York handled nearly 12 percent more cargo traffic during the first half of this year, compared with the same period last year, the Port Authority has reported.
The increase means that New York and New Jersey have increased their share of the Northeast seaboard shipping market by less than one-half of 1 percent over last year - to slightly less than 40 percent, a far cry from the 70 percent or more that it enjoyed during its heyday.
But the numbers were seen by shipping analysts as encouraging evidence that lower labor costs, an expensive overhaul of the harbor and docks and an aggressive marketing campaign have begun to pay off after a decades-long decline in the ports' fortunes.
"New York has been fighting to maintain its position, and it is now getting to the point where it can be more competitive," said Michael Sclar, a shipping analyst who has examined shipping trends for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Sclar and other analysts warn that New York must fix its most intractable problem: the tons of riverborne silt that clog the harbor's shipping lanes. "Down the road, huge amounts of cargo will be coming to the Eastern ports from East Asia, and those cargoes will be coming in ships that require a 45- or 50-foot draft," Sclar said.
Port Authority officials said they believed that the increase in cargo traffic during the first half of this year was partly a result of a half-billion-dollar modernization of the docks over the last five years, including a ship-to-rail terminal in Elizabeth, N.J., that has helped cut costs for shippers.
Earlier this year, the New York Shipping Association also reduced the assessment for cargo moving through the ports from $3.50 a ton to $2.90 a ton.
The assessment has long been used to pay the salaries of unionized workers for whom there is little or no work - an agreement reached in the late 1960s, when containerization began to render many longshoremen's jobs obsolete. But now, said Lillian Borrone, director of port commerce for the Port Authority, the number of longshoremen has dropped from 20,000 at its peak to about 2,700 through retirement. The number required to perform the work is about 2,200, Borrone said.
But the number of surplus workers has shrunk enough for the cargo fee to be decreased, which officials said they believe has played a part in steering more of the economy's new business into New York and New Jersey ports.
Increases during the first half of this year were seen mostly in imports and exports of stereos, VCRs, television sets, alcoholic beverages, toys, clothing and shoes. The number of loaded aluminum containers moving through the port rose to 832,499 this year from 744,727 last year.
Car imports also jumped - to 165,262, from 143,212, or by 15 percent - a figure that does not reflect recent decisions by two major manufacturers to ship 60,000 more cars a year through the ports.
Pub Date: 10/26/97