Exclusive interview: Robert Ballantyne (April 01, 2005)

by Lou Smyrlis

TORONTO, Ont. – The following is the second and final of Truck News’ exclusive interview with Canadian Industrial Transportation Association President Robert Ballantyne.


TN:Shippers are increasingly looking to intermodal options to reduce their transportation costs, yet the system has experienced extensive delays over the past year. You were a key participant in the Canadian Intermodal 2004 conference in Toronto, which I chaired in the fall. In your view, what’s the real cause of the delays? Is there a solution?

Ballantyne: Containerized shipments are suffering from success. World trade is booming, especially for consumer and other products that are particularly suitable for containerization. The cause of delays and bottlenecks is that carriers, ports and relevant government agencies appear to have been surprised by the rapid growth in this trade over the past year and investment in equipment, people, and fixed plant (or infrastructure) is lagging the demand. This appears to be particularly the case involving trans-Pacific trade, particularly with China.

TN:Increased and far more complicated border security is the inescapable reality of 9/11. From the outset both the Canadian and American governments tried to assure shippers and carriers that their legislative initiatives would address both security and efficiency in crossborder trade. How would you rate their performance on meeting that promise?

Ballantyne: I think the results are mixed. No one disputes the need for appropriate security, whether it relates to potential terrorist activity or in the normal handling of dangerous goods. Some of the initiatives to improve both border security and border efficiency will be successful. The FAST program improved vehicle-scanning technology, and Customs Self-Assessment are several programs that come to mind. All such programs take time to build momentum and as more people sign on, they will be more successful. The various governments need to be aggressive about putting the necessary border infrastructure and equipment in place to support these programs and to ensure that the desired results are achieved.

TN: Succeeding in such a highly regulated environment requires closer collaboration between shipper and carrier than we’ve seen in the past. How would you describe the current state of the shipper-carrier relationship? Which areas require the most improvement and how is CITA planning to address those areas?

Ballantyne: There is always some tension between shippers and carriers, i.e. between buyers and sellers, and that tension is healthy. I think that generally the relationship between shippers and carriers is OK. In canvassing our membership for the recent Intermodal conference that you chaired, the shippers main concern is with the railways. The issues of service quality, congestion, and pricing, especially the railways’ growing use of ancillary charges are issues of concern for shippers and points of irritation. There is concern among shippers regarding rising prices in all modes and competitiveness of Canadian industry could suffer if carriers push price increases too high. The areas that need improvement are investment in port, inland terminals and rail equipment and facilities, as well as addressing the truck driver shortages, investment in border facilities and implementation of legislative change, especially with the Canada Transportation Act and the Canada Marine Act. CITA will continue to make its concerns known to the carrier community and will continue its advocacy activities with various levels of government, and with international agencies on issues of concern to shippers. Industry associations’ prime product is “communication” in the broadest sense, and communicate we will.

TN:Let’s talk a bit about your recent trade show and conference, TRANSPO 2005, held in Toronto in March. New this year was the fact you partnered with our sister publication, Canadian Transportation & Logistics, and greatly beefed up the conference portion, including a presentation of new research on transportation buying trends, to entice more shippers to attend. But why should truckers continue to support TRANSPO?

Ballantyne: At TRANSPO carriers had an opportunity to meet and market to a large number of shippers from across the country. CITA’s 110+ members include some of the largest buyers of freight transportation in Canada. The transportation conference that was part of TRANSPO included both carriers and shippers discussing road, rail, marine, and airfreight and drew a large audience of logistics officers – we actually sold out the conference – who also were visitors to the trade show. We also had a top official with the federal Ministry of Transport address the conference on upcoming legislative changes. Transpo will continue to be a cost effective way for motor carriers to get their message to the shipper community.

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