Can you believe that in a couple of weeks we start a new decade? To me, it seems like yesterday that as a first-time father I was spending my December weekends shopping for the right-sized generator to provide us with power in case the Y2K bug knocked out the power grid to start off the year 2000. (hey, I live in the country – I wasn’t that bad a purchase.)
Being in the mood to reminisce, I decided t look back through our magazines to the year 1999 to see just how much things have changed for the industry, or not. Well, we all remember Y2K of course, and I wasn’t the only one pressed into needless action by overhyped concerns. One of our stories that year quoted Dennis Hamilton, CEO of Crisis Response Planning, warning “there are so many things that can go wrong that the probability that something will affect some part of your business is one hundred percent.” As is turned out, the only thing that was one hundred percent was that a lot of computer programmers got rich that year.
Speaking of “not working out quite as planned” I found a story entitled “Is there relief at last”, in which we wrote that “The national highway system may not end up paved in gold but all signposts suggest the federal government’s next budget will put a large amount of green into Canada’s blacktop.” Liberal MP Joe Comuzzi, chairman of the National Highways Program, even told us “we’re very serious.” I guess in the end, they weren’t quite that serious. Funny thing is we also ran a story about the Auditor General leaving no doubt about the cost of negligence on road maintenance. He noted that the cost of basic preventive maintenance such as sealing cracks or patching of asphalt roads is between $500 and $1,000 per lane kilometer. But if such preventive work is ignored, the need for rehabilitation measures will arise sooner than it should – typically at 12 years. And by then repairing the road costs $80,000 per lane kilometre.
If only we had listened.
But it’s not just politicians who learn their lessons too late. Ten years ago we were writing that fleets were in a buying mood. A strong domestic economy and a booming transborder market were giving carriers plenty of confidence to invest in new equipment. Demand for new iron was so hot in fact that order boards were suffering delays of eight months or more. Just a few months later, Challenger’s Dan Einwechter was warning that a bull market can make anyone look intelligent and worried about troubling signs ahead, a spike in diesel pricing chief among them. Within a couple of years, spiking diesel prices and insurance costs, coupled with the impact on the economy of the dot.com bubble burst saw a quarter of the nation’s small carriers disappear.
With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics. All posts by Lou Smyrlis