STILL HURTING: Western Canadian cattle haulers continue to struggle as 2005 rolls around.
VANCOUVER, B.C. – On the left coast, B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) president Paul Landry said there’s reason for optimism, but also for concern.
On the positive side, he said the provincial economy is expected to remain strong into 2005. He also said there’s plenty of good-paying freight out there and due to a lack of equipment, rates are increasing.
However, fleets will have a hard time keeping up with demand, Landry predicted, as a result of the ongoing driver shortage. He said BCTA will be trying to address this issue in 2005.
Another area of concern is congestion at the Port of Vancouver where three- to four-hour waits are becoming routine.
“Since the port is only open from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. that makes it very difficult for drivers to get sufficient runs in over the course of a day,” he pointed out. He saw few signs of an improvement in the near future with a container backlog continuing to build.
In terms of cross-border trucking, Landry said it’s a Catch-22 in B.C. The government has been improving highways leading to and from the border and has recently implemented a new FAST (Free and Secure Trade)-only lane at the Pacific Highway Crossing. However, he said shippers have been slow to embrace FAST, so that lane has thus far been underutilized. He hoped to see more shipper involvement in FAST as 2005 rolls around.
Landry also said Western carriers are concerned about the impending penalty-stage of U.S. prenotification rules.
“It’s clear a lot of carriers don’t know what’s going on so I think there are going to be lots of problems when the penalty phase rolls around,” predicted Landry.
In terms of infrastructure, Landry said it will be an ongoing battle to get the province and the feds to continue to provide funding to upgrade roads and bridges in the Lower Mainland.
Kim Royal, executive director of the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA), said a big issue in Alberta remains the U.S. ban on live Canadian cattle. It’s been nearly two years since the ban was imposed following a single case of made cow disease in Alberta.
“That’s an ongoing issue and I don’t perceive we’re going to see relief as soon as some of the newspapers would have you believe,” said Royal. “I don’t see the political will to open the border, but time will tell.”
In Alberta, Royal said there’s reason to be optimistic in terms of infrastructure development.
“I see a greater political will to address infrastructure,” said Royal.
He said progress is being made towards ring roads in both Calgary and Edmonton, and twinning of the remaining two-lane stretches of the Trans-Canada in Alberta is slated to get underway in 2005.
Although only about one-third of the remaining two-lane stretch of TCH will receive attention this year, Royal added “they are concentrating on the section with the highest collision statistics.”
As with many other regions of the country, Royal said there simply aren’t enough rest areas in Alberta – a problem that needs to be addressed, especially in light of the new Hours-of-Service regulations. He suggested road safety in general will be a focal point and more rest areas are necessary for passenger vehicles as well.
Royal also predicted ongoing issues will continue to be a concern for the entire Canadian trucking industry in 2005.
These include the seeming unwillingness of carriers to increase their rates to offset increasing costs and the driver shortage which doesn’t appear to be going away.
In Manitoba, small rural carriers are coming off a difficult economic year and Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA) general manager Bob Dolyniuk said that’s not likely to change soon.
“The rural portion of our industry had a bad go of things this year and that will remain the same into early next year,” Dolyniuk surmised.
However, he did predict a rosier outlook for larger carriers and those that haul into the U.S., as there’s currently a shortage of carrier capacity.
“The long-haul rates have been increasing and it’s been a very aggressive market internationally,” said Dolyniuk.
This could be dampened somewhat, however, as new border regulations are expected to come with stiff fines for non-compliance. Dolyniuk said it’s enough to scare some smaller trans-border carriers out of that market altogether.
“A $5,000 penalty could put them right out of business,” he pointed out.
As with most regions, Manitoba is struggling with a shortage of drivers. That is the main deterrent to expansion for many carriers, Dolyniuk said.
“We’ve had limited success bringing people into this industry,” he acknowledged.
He added that in 2005 the province’s trucking industry will be taking a closer look at immigration as a solution to this ongoing problem.If the new Hours-of-Service regulations come into effect in 2005, Dolyniuk expected the driver shortage to be exacerbated by the negative productivity impact.