Truck News


CITA-OTA Shipper-Carrier Forum to meet again in November

One of my favourite TV shows of all-time is Monty Python’s Flying Circus (yes I do have a sense of humour). There is one sketch that always made me laugh. It was a play on those popular mechanics-science shows where people get together...

One of my favourite TV shows of all-time is Monty Python’s Flying Circus (yes I do have a sense of humour). There is one sketch that always made me laugh. It was a play on those popular mechanics-science shows where people get together and show you how simple it is to build things.

In this particular sketch, you learn how to build steel girder bridges and rid the world of all known disease. It ends with something like, “on next week’s show we’ll be over in Moscow reconciling the Chinese and the Russians.” A similar sort of sketch on Saturday Night Live at the time had Jimmy Carter – after hosting a peace conference with the Arabs and Israelis – taking things up a notch by reconciling Lennon and McCartney.

What does any of this have to do with trucking? While the level of friction may not be on the same scale as Sino-Soviet or Arab-Israeli or even Lennon-McCartney proportions, relations between carriers and shippers have often been distant and in some cases a little frosty or adversarial. Some tension in a business relationship can be a good thing; it keeps everyone on their toes. But, tension – or a lack of communication, which is often how tension manifests itself – can impede the kind of understanding that is ultimately needed to effectively address issues of mutual concern. And there are lots of those shared between shippers and carriers. I guess I was always interested in the idea of bringing people together to try and solve problems even when the prospects of success might be dim.

With that in mind, the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association (CITA) and the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) got together late last year to explore the idea of establishing a forum made up of shippers and motor carriers with the goal of opening a mutually beneficial dialogue on working together to identify opportunities for greater efficiencies in the goods distribution system.

The result of that discussion culminated in the first CITA-OTA Shipper-Carrier Forum, held this past May. CITA selected 10 shippers to participate and OTA selected a like number of carriers. It was the hope of both associations that the event would be a forum for the two key players in the supply chain to have an informal and honest discussion about the opportunities for getting waste out of the transportation system; the positives and negatives of the bid/tender process for attaining long-term efficiency improvements; how changes in the psychology of supply chain management are impacting the relationship; and the challenges posed by a shortage of truck drivers.

Going in, no one was quite sure if much would be accomplished. We heard from those who said there would be no point in talking; nothing would change. But we soldiered on believing that, at the very least, no harm could come from communicating. Who knows what it might lead to down the road? If nothing else, at least we tried.

What we got was a very open and respectful two-way discussion with each side gaining a better understanding of each other’s realities. The message that this sort of dialogue was long overdue was oft-repeated during the course of the almost three-hour meeting.

Some good advice was shared by both sides on how best to deal with each other. In fact, this led to at least one tangible outcome – a joint document “advice piece” containing some best practices for managing the shipper-carrier business relationship.

For example: On the issue of bids and tenders, “shippers advise carriers to take steps to analyze all the data provided in order to best quote prices and pay closer attention to corporate bid processing policies.” In return carriers suggested “bids tenders be put out as long as possible and contracts and payment terms be more fair and balanced.”

The two sides also had positive discussions on issues such as the carrier evaluation-verification process, better communication strategies and the treatment of truck drivers at shipping facilities. To see the complete CITA-OTA Best Practices guide visit the OTA or the CITA Web sites.

As my colleague, Bob Ballantyne, president of CITA said at the time, “This is an important first step in creating the basis for productive dialogue going forward.” I agree. Everyone wants to be the shipper of choice or the carrier of choice, so to get advice from the very people you are trying to win over in that regard is not something to be ignored.

We are also excited to announce that at the participants’ insistence the CITA-OTA Shipper-Carrier Forum Round II will take place in Toronto on Nov. 13, just prior to the commencement of the OTA annual convention and executive forum. I expect the interest generated so far will lead to similar efforts in other parts of the country – and that is a good thing.

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