Truck drivers between the ages of 18 and 21 could be given the keys to a lucrative blue-collar career hauling ocean containers to and from terminals operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) if regulators lift commercial driver license (CDL) restrictions, according to the agency.
In comments filed this week with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in support of a pilot program allowing under-21 drivers to get an interstate CDL, PANYNJ Deputy Port Director Bethann Rooney emphasized that “seasoned drivers at the Port can make upwards of $250,000 annually,” with local truck drivers contributing toward $12 billion in annual tax revenues.
“It is one of the nation’s most productive, high-volume global port operations and is a conduit of global commerce with the capability of reaching 28 million consumers via drayage truck within just two hours of the Port,” Rooney stated. “The proposed pilot program would greatly support interstate commerce and economic resiliency by reducing a barrier of entry for qualified CDL-holders to enter the workforce and fill needed positions.”
Federal law currently prohibits drivers under 21 to haul freight beyond state borders, creating a potential roadblock for intermodal drayage within the New York-New Jersey port area where the over-the-road container supply chain reaches into several states.
Rooney also noted that businesses within the port area are “uniquely positioned” to participate in FMCSA’s proposed pilot program. “We are working with trucking partners to provide practical experience in order to prepare these students for entry into this segment.”
Best Transportation, a large intermodal trucking company based in Port Newark, New Jersey, is one of the area companies willing to provide an apprenticeship program for the FMCSA pilot.
“Best Transportation would request permission for a demonstration project to start a driver within the confines of the Port of New York and New Jersey where our company is located and our drivers work, travelling less than 30 miles per day,” Best Transportation President Thomas Heimgartner affirmed in commenting on the proposal.
The company would expand the new driver’s perimeter of travel to a 50-mile radius after a defined training period, Heimgartner said. “In effect this driver would be intrastate, which is currently allowed under New Jersey Law, but [would be] employed by an interstate carrier.”
The Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers, also based out of Port Newark, pointed to a study released last month by the American Transportation Research Institute listing a shortage of drivers as the most critical issue facing the trucking industry. PANYNJ, which set an all-time monthly record for container volume in September, “needs drivers now more than ever, and the proposed pilot program … would help us increase our workforce.”
The association also agreed with the Port Authority that FMCSA’s pilot program would “provide a pathway to financial stability and career success for the young people in and around the urban communities adjacent to the port … especially those for whom college may not be an option due to systemic socio-economic obstacles,” asserted the group, which claims to move a majority share of the port’s container business.
“Young drivers who participate in the program will learn the skills they need, while earning an income that will allow them to have options that would not otherwise be available to them: working as a trucker can help pay for college or help them save for the purchase of their own vehicle.”
Comments on the under-21 pilot proposal must be submitted on or before next Monday.
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