Inside the Fleet of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey


By Bill Romba

September, 2019

Very few fleets can have a major impact on worldwide air traffic from the ground.
According to a December 2018 report compiled by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Aviation Department, over 1.3 million flights and nearly 20.5 million passengers were handled by airports controlled by the agency last year. Without the Port Authority’s Central Automotive Division supplying the necessary ground vehicles to keep runways clear and passengers moving, those planes would never get off the ground.


Port Authority Assets

Responsible for three of the country’s busiest airports (JFK International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, and LaGuardia Airport), as well as four major bridges (the George Washington Bridge, Goethals Bridge, Outerbridge Crossing, and Bayonne Bridge), two essential tunnels (the Holland Tunnel and Lincoln Tunnel), and the PATH rail system, the Port Authority must maintain high levels of performance and efficiency to keep global commerce moving on a daily basis.

The agency’s Central Automotive Division plays a major role in this effort by making sure that their 2,500 vehicles are prepped and ready to tackle the workload that comes with handling such a densely populated region of the country.


In addition to typical fleet vehicles like sedans, SUVs, and bucket trucks, the Port Authority is also responsible for buses, snowplows, snow blowers, ARFF (Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting) fire trucks, jet fuel tankers, front loaders, lawn mowers, and tunnel-cleaning brush trucks. 

“We’re part of Operation Services. Basically, we support the line departments. Line departments are out there on the front lines interfacing with the customers and getting folks to and from, goods to and from, and we support what their needs are,” explained Dave Bobbitt, Manager of the Central Automotive Division. “We have internal customers, and our mission is to make them successful.”

“Technically, our clients are the agency itself,” added Assistant Manager Varuna Sembukuttige.
As a result, they must be on the cutting edge of a fleet industry that is going through major changes and need to stay one step ahead of those changes whenever possible.

In addition to typical fleet vehicles like sedans, SUVs, and bucket trucks, the Port Authority is also responsible for buses, snowplows, snow blowers, ARFF (Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting) fire trucks, jet fuel tankers, front loaders, lawn mowers, and tunnel-cleaning brush trucks. To help keep this wide array of equipment running as efficiently as possible, the organization is beginning to implement a telematics program.

“We’ve been a fleet who’ve made decisions based upon history, the knowledge of all the employees. But we want to be a little more data-driven so that we can make better decisions moving forward,” said Jim Hineson, Jr., General Maintenance Supervisor.

Trouble Shooting for the Future

“One of the major things we did was, we sat around the table and said, ‘What are some of the things that would improve our fleet and help us move forward?’ Telematics was one of the first things to be mentioned,” he stated. “You’ve really got to do your homework on what you want to research if you want to share this information, and what you plan on doing down the road.”

Hineson said that this data will be used, in part, to help with the procurement of vehicles, as well as identifying vehicles already in fleet that are high idlers.


One of the most important aspects of making a telematics program successful is transparency: speaking with facility managers and vehicle end users to explain what the software is and the benefits it will have for the whole organization.

For Bobbitt, one of the most important aspects of making their telematics program successful is transparency: speaking with facility managers and vehicle end users to explain what the software is and the benefits it will have for the whole organization. 

“It makes them aware of this and helps get that buy-in because there’s a lot of coordination with this effort. This is literally going into the weeds and you really need to hold hands with the guy on the third shift when you need his vehicle for 20 minutes, so you can explain what’s being installed,” he explained.

“We reached out to many fleets across the country; large fleets, small fleets, and asked them what they use it for, and whom they report it to. One of the biggest complaints that we really got from almost every fleet that had telematics is that we have all this great information coming in, but we have no one to monitor it,” added Hineson. “So, if you’re thinking about implementing telematics, you need someone to constantly monitor it.

“Even though we have a system in place, we’re still going out to fleets to find out what reports they’re doing, and how they’re doing them, and how we can better improve. Everyone’s thinking of telematics from a different angle, so why not share some of the information and try to build the best system that you can,” he said.

Going Green

Another way that the Port Authority is keeping up with current fleet technology is the agency’s greening initiative. Bobbitt said his team is very proud of this program, and that they have an objective to make at least 50% of their light-duty fleet fully electrified by 2023. Kevin Niranjan, Supervisor, Automotive Engineering, handles vehicle procurement for the Port Authority and spoke about some of the sustainable vehicles that are helping to meet that goal.

“We currently have 18 electric busses and we’ll be going through procurement for an additional 18 in the coming year,” he said. “They’re used to shuttle patrons for the airports.”


In addition to unplanned weather events like snowstorms and hurricanes, the Port Authority fleet team must be prepared with specialized equipment well in advance to help support scheduled occasions like the United Nations General Assembly, as well as Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) police training.

Niranjan went on to explain that while they have had no issues with the electrical side of these vehicles, they have had to make modifications to comply with the New Jersey Department of Transportation requirements.

“For example, brake stopping distance. New Jersey has a requirement of 22.5 feet when rolling at 25 mph. We were hitting above that, so we had to put more aggressive brake pads on there. They were also a little underweight on the front axle, so we also had to beef up the control arms to satisfy that requirement. We were also failing when it came to the compressor capacities for the brake systems, so we also had to resize the compressors. We’ve done all of this relatively quickly to get those busses on the road.”

Mark Gernavage, Automotive Engineer, also detailed some of the ways that the fleet has made their 10,000-gallon airplane fuel tankers greener than before. 

 “The Port Authority has the second largest fleet of refueling vehicles in the entire world,” he said. For reference, he added that a typical day at JFK Airport sees planes burn around 5 million gallons of jet fuel, while planes out of Newark Airport use around 2.8 million gallons daily.

“We currently have a fleet of 65 tankers, which we are in the process of replacing. All of them will be brand new, going from engines that were before Tier 1 even existed, to Tier 4 final engines,” Gernavage explained. “We’ve reduced approximately 21% of NOx output. We’ve also equipped these vehicles with engine block heaters, so they no longer need to run overnight.

“During the winter, they would run these trucks overnight because they were big, heavy diesel engines, to make sure they would start at 5 a.m. We’ve run a couple of different cost analyses, and the heaters have already paid for themselves. They’re about $3,000 apiece and over the course of a year and a half, we’ve already saved enough in diesel to pay for them. That’s hours off the engines and hours off reducing NOx,” he said.

In addition to these larger, more specialized vehicles, Niranjan also said that the Port Authority has begun using the Chevy Bolt as a replacement for their sedans, as well as the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid as a solution for replacing their minivans. He also added that they will be onboarding the Ford Interceptor hybrid police vehicle once it is rolled out.

However, the Port Authority’s sustainability effort doesn’t just stop with the physical cars and trucks they use. Niranjan also spoke about being one of the first agencies to implement Oshkosh’s No-Foam System on their 24 ARFF trucks. This system assimilates a mixture of foam and water to ensure a 3% blend, which is required to fight fires and meet FAA regulations.

“In the long run, it saves the environment by not dumping foam into the sewer systems or into our groundwater,” he said.

The organization is also part of a trial group testing out soybean-based tires on some of their engineering and Port Authority Police Department vehicles. “The wear on the tires has been very good. It’s been a tiny bit of a rougher ride but nothing you would notice,” said Hineson. “The stopping distance, everything else, has been the exact same as the tires that had been on there. We went through the winter with (the soybean tires), so we’re going to see with the warmer temperatures. But so far, we’ve had nothing but great results.”

Supervisor of Contracts and Compliance Prescott Miller handles the responsibilities that come with fueling these vehicles. “We go through over a million gallons a year in fuel. Probably about 130,000 gallons per month,” he said. This includes ultra-low-sulfur diesel, B20 biodiesel, compressed natural gas, E-85 ethanol, and regular unleaded.

“We have12 fueling locations at our facilities and all seven auto shops have fuel stations as well. They all have on-site fueling because most of our work is all on-site anyway, so our guys will know when to fuel up,” Miller said. “Each driver is issued their own pin number and each vehicle is assigned a card, so any driver can fuel any car. The cards are restricted to the fuel type, based on the vehicle. This way a driver doesn’t put diesel in a gasoline vehicle, for example.”

Natural Disasters

As mentioned above, if the Port Authority’s snowplows can’t run when needed, or if heavy rains flood PATH tunnels, business and travel will grind to a halt. Going back to 2012 and Superstorm Sandy, the organization said they learned a great deal from dealing with the remnants of that hurricane and it has led to preventative measures that are used today.

“We’re just about done with all of the replacements and additions to our fleet from Sandy, for readiness,” Gernavage said. “We wound up buying some extra heavy-duty compressors, so we could run switch signals if the main head units were compromised due to flood waters. We’ve got a 1,600 cfm (cubic feet per minute) compressor we can drop on-site to run the switches for all the subways. Then pumps and portable generators, we bought probably five or six just to be able to pump the tunnels out to get the system ready.”

Miller also spoke about the contingency plan for getting fuel during a major weather event.  “The good part is that our contractor has fuel farms that are not just local but in upstate New York, as well as Pennsylvania. So, if something is affected here and they can’t operate the fuel farm, they can bring fuel from other locations,” he said.

In addition to unplanned weather events like snowstorms and hurricanes, the Port Authority fleet team must be prepared with specialized equipment well in advance to help support scheduled occasions like the United Nations General Assembly, as well as Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) police training.

Air, Rail and Road

While fleet might not always get the credit it deserves, the Central Automotive Division of the Port Authority plays a major part in the agency’s success keeping the planes, trains, and automobiles in the New York metro area moving each day. As a result, they are motivated by constantly trying to improve, and streamline their processes even further.

“That’s kind of the mindset around the entire office ,” said Hineson. “I think everyone takes a lot of pride in what they do, but it’s the fact that we can always be better; knowing that someone can always do something better and reaching out.

“On every single level, we’re trying to improve, not just an initiative or a small picture. We’re trying to maximize our potential in every way.”
Read more below..

Training New Technicians

Fleets in many different segments are currently facing high attrition rates when it comes to automotive technicians. Finding suitable replacements is difficult enough, but how do you ensure that the knowledge these techs have stays within your organization, making for a more seamless transition?

“We have a lot of mechanics from a lot of different backgrounds. We don’t expect any mechanic to come in here and be able to work on an armored car, and then turn around and work on a boat, and then work on a sedan,” said Jim Hineson, Jr., General Maintenance Supervisor for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “We have all these senior mechanics with all of this knowledge, so we like to pair them up (with newer technicians) and cross train.”

Different generations of mechanics often have different skill sets. For example, Hineson explained that newer mechanics will often have more experience with diagnostics and the computerized aspect of automobiles, while senior staff may have more overall knowledge of the vehicles. “So, not only does cross training bridge that gap of unity in the shop, so you don’t have all the 30-year guys and the 5-year guys in two different piles, but you get them to work together,” he said.
In addition to cross-training, the Port Authority also makes sure that technicians have time to practice on any new equipment before it arrives.

“Every time we purchase a vehicle, we write into the specs that we want training on that equipment, especially if it’s specialized,” Hineson said. “We allocate time for training so that when we purchase the vehicle, they’ll be up to speed on it the minute we get it.”

It can also be important to make sure there are records of each person’s job responsibilities, especially for office staff. This way, when a current employee leaves, their successor can hit the ground running. To help with this, Hineson said the Port Authority created a book of standard operating procedures for each employee’s duties and a list of their current contacts. “That was one of the very important things that we had to do… so if someone’s retiring, for example, an engineer, you aren’t trying to reinvent everything right out of the gate, because you have enough to worry about.”

Keeping Runways Clear

Responsible for three of the northeast’s busiest airports, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey can’t afford to mess around when it comes to weather events like snow. They need to be prepared to get runways cleared as quickly as possible, typically within a 30-minute window. This may sound impossible, but here’s some insight into how they make it work.
Not every storm is going to bring a light coating of snow. So, when plows are out clearing runways, visibility for the drivers of these trucks can become a serious issue at night, and in whiteout conditions. For this reason, the plows are broken up into teams, with two lead vehicles at the head of each group. These guide vans have a single, clear light in the center of their roof, which when illuminated will flash in one of several different colors.

This way, if a group of plows is designated as the “Red Team”, they know they are following the vans with red lights on top.

In addition to the Mack snow plows and Oshkosh snow blowers that see duty in the winter months, the Port Authority also has a very specialized piece of snow removal equipment: the Overaasen RS 400 high-speed runway sweeper.

These articulated vehicles comprise a 4x4 Mercedes-Benz Arocs cab-over-truck and are a triple-threat when it comes to clearing runways as fast as possible. They can clear snow at speeds as high as 60 mph.

The front of the vehicle features a 27-foot long blade, with ends that can be folded inward. This enables the truck to fit through tight spaces like security gates. In the center of the trailer is a 20-foot long steel brush that kicks up any snow left behind from the plow, while the blower at the rear of the trailer pushes any residual snow from the tarmac.

The Port Authority currently has 58 of these vehicles in the fleet. It also tries to multi-purpose as many of the vehicles as possible, so in the warmer months, the Overaasen plows are used to clean dirt and debris from runways.

Explore More Articles...