Truck News


News Focus: Making the best of it

It's a statistic Canadian motor carriers can't help worrying about. The number of trucks crossing the border dropped by 3.4 percent in 2001 over the previous year. That's surprising because the Canadi...

It’s a statistic Canadian motor carriers can’t help worrying about. The number of trucks crossing the border dropped by 3.4 percent in 2001 over the previous year. That’s surprising because the Canadian economy did manage to grow last year, albeit at an anaemic rate, and border truck traffic has been growing at a faster rate than the economy since 1991 when the impact of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement started to be felt.

For a decade now, the transborder market has served as the engine of growth for Canadian motor carriers. They’ve become accustomed to double-digit growth in revenue from their transborder lanes, which typically pay better than domestic hauls. In fact, transborder hauls make up almost half of total for-hire carrier revenues today, almost double their share of revenue from 1991. So it’s easy to see why any indication of a drop in that market would have carriers worried, and wondering what caused the sudden drop.

The impact of September 11 is likely the first cause cited. The numbers, however, don’t support that idea. The tragedy at the World Trade Center may have reduced the flow of trucks for a few weeks after September 11, however, after that it was the slowing economy that accounted for the decline in cross-border truck volumes.

But there’s good news in with the bad. Even though total traffic declined, Canadian truckers continue to gain a larger piece of the transborder market pie over their American counterparts.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.

In 2001, 13.2 million trucks crossed the border. (That’s 25 trucks a minute.) If the monthly truck traffic figures in 2001 are compared to those in 2000, the only real blip is in September when volumes fell 11.9 percent. (See Cross-Border Truck Volumes Chart on page 20) In October, November and December, volumes, while below those in 2000, were just down about the same as the average decline in traffic for the whole year (3.4 percent). And even though the downward blip in September appears large, part of the reason is that August volumes were quite high. The number of trucks crossing the border in September (1,025,174) was actually slightly higher than the number in July. So it looks as if most of the drop off in traffic occurred because of the slowdown in the economy. Border delay may have slowed traffic, but it didn’t stop it.

The biggest year-over-year drop, -6.8 percent, was in New Brunswick, followed by British Columbia (-5.8 percent) and Ontario (-4.3 percent). Cross-border traffic in Qubec was stationary and on the Prairies it actually grew by 5.1 percent. In fact traffic between Saskatchewan and Montana, albeit relatively small numbers, grew by a remarkable 22 percent in 2001.

The other piece of good news, of course, is the continuing dominance of Canadian trucking firms. The number of trucks with Canadian registrations crossing the border held almost steady in 2001. The big drop was with U.S.-registered trucks; they fell off by 9.1 percent. This means that Canadian-registered trucks now account for 70 percent of cross-border traffic, a proportion that has been slowly growing over the last several decades. (See the Truck Trips Chart.) In 1984, Canadian registered trucks only accounted for 59 percent of the traffic. (Continued on next page)

The numbers shown on the charts and table are an estimate based on information collected by Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. Customs agents count every inbound truck. The charts and table show double this amount to estimate total two-way traffic. As trucks come into the country, Customs records whether the registration is Canadian or American. This is used here as a rough proxy for Canadian and American trucking firms. Of course some companies own operations on both sides of the border so vehicle registration is not an accurate indicator of the nationality of the firm. But it’s probably a close one, particularly for the nationality of the driver.

Of the 118 border road crossings, the top ten shown in the Busiest Truck Crossings Table account for three-quarters of all truck traffic. The numbers for Ambassador Bridge are a guesstimate because Canada Customs and Revenue Agency numbers for this crossing are combined with those of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. But, making an educated guess about the annual capacity of the tunnel, it’s not too hard to guess at the traffic on the bridge.

Not surprisingly, Ontario accounts for five of the top ten spots. Ontario-U.S. truck traffic – 8.3 million trucks in 2001 – accounts for almost two-thirds of total cross-border traffic. This Ontario traffic was down 4.3 percent in 2001 and the biggest drop was between Ontario and New York (-5.7 percent). On the Peace Bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo, the drop was 6.8 percent.

One border crossing that defied the general downward trend was Coutts-Sweetgrass connecting Alberta’s Highway #4 with Interstate #15. Here, traffic was up 9.5 percent in 2001, maintaining the Coutts-Sweetgrass record of having about the fastest growth rate on the border over the long haul. There are almost four times as many trucks crossing Coutts-Sweetrgrass as there were in the mid-1980s.

Traffic at Manitoba’s Emerson also defied national trends. It grew by 1.5 percent and this border also (like Coutts) maintains its record as one of the faster growing gateways to and from the U.S. Volumes are up almost three times since the mid-1980s.

Overall levels of truck traffic on the British Columbia border were down 5.8 percent in 2001 over 2000. And the busiest border point – at Pacific, connecting to I-5 in Blaine – reflected this decline by seeing a drop of 9.5 percent. But just up the valley at Aldergrove where BC Highway #13 hits the border, truck traffic was up by 13.5 percent. And even further up, on BC Highway #11 at Sumas, traffic was up 8.6 percent. Maybe everyone is trying to avoid the congestion at Blaine.

Busiest Truck Crossings in 2001

Cross-Border Truck Traffic 2002 Annual Growth Rate, 1996-2002 Proportion of Trucks with Canadian Registrations
Ambassador Bridge (Windsor – Detroit) 3,274,754 1.5% 55.8%
Blue Water Bridge (Ont 402 – I-94) 1,467,580 1.9% 74.6%
Peace Bridge (Ont QEW – I-190) 1,351,672 0.7% 80.1%
Lewiston-Queenston Bridge 1,004,178 1.1% 67.8%
(Ont 405 – I-190)
Douglas-Blaine (BC 99 – I-5) 788,076 -0.1% 74.5%
Lacolle-Champlain (Que 15 – I-87) 762,512 1.4% 83.1%
Thousand Islands (Ont 410 – I81) 502,544 1.8% 86.2%
Emerson-Pembina (Man 75 – I-29) 367,274 1.6% 87.3%
Phillipsburg (Que 133 – I-89) 300,858 1.7% 78.3%
Coutts-Sweetgrass (Alta 4 – I-15) 289,704 3.0% 77.4%

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