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No reason to jump off a cliff

Recently, the famed sci-fi author, Ray Bradbury, passed away. Everyone who ever took Grade 10 English had to read The Martian Chronicles. I am not a big science fiction fan but I remember I liked that book. In one of the obituaries that...


Recently, the famed sci-fi author, Ray Bradbury, passed away. Everyone who ever took Grade 10 English had to read The Martian Chronicles. I am not a big science fiction fan but I remember I liked that book. In one of the obituaries that appeared after his death he is quoted as saying: “Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off, and build your wings on the way down.”

For me, that quote immediately brought to mind the character of the creative and resourceful men and women who make up the Canadian trucking industry – those who run Canada’s trucking companies and their thousands of hard-working, dedicated employees – the drivers, dispatchers, mechanics, and countless other professionals who keep the freight moving every hour of every day so that our economy won’t miss a beat.

At times, when forced to take the plunge into unfamiliar territory, the trucking industry’s innovators and independent entrepreneurs build wings that help the industry soar and map out the future; while in tougher periods – such as these last few years – judicious, adaptable truckers are happy to simply find balance and glide down to a softer landing. Either way, truckers’ toes always appear to be pointing to the edge of some type of cliff.

As we approach National Trucking Week 2012, it appears there’s been yet another sudden turn in many of the economic indicators – sluggish GDP growth at home and abroad, a labour market stuck in between the seventh and eighth gear of the unemployment scale, debt worries in Europe and the US, etc.

Sagging new truck and trailer orders are one reflection of the industry’s response to these lacklustre times. After four years of this, it no doubt is starting to wear on some people, especially after a somewhat more optimistic start to 2012.

I honestly believe that when times get tough, this industry really shows its mettle. You’ve proven it repeatedly. Sure, we’ve emerged from the “great recession” a little bruised and it’s disappointing the upturn in both Canada and the US is much softer than past recoveries, but frankly, Canadian truckers are in a far better position than their brethren in many other places in the world. There is no doubt this is largely due to the unmatched Canadian spirit – which truckers exemplify through their dedication, no-quit attitude and acceptance of change – that helps us weather cyclical storms when they hit and puts us squarely on the road for growth and sustainability when the clouds part.

That road will continue to be rocky during stretches, to be sure. The near-par Loonie is here to stay, putting the squeeze on Canadian manufacturing and exports.

Record-high equipment and maintenance costs are putting the pinch on carriers and although it’s been a relatively nice summer, let’s face it, diesel ain’t going to sit calmly at its current relatively soft levels forever. (In defining “soft” all things are relative, of course).

But when have any of those things ever stopped us before? For years now, I’ve heard the tale that the other modes are in a renaissance and poised to take back market share. I’m still waiting. In fact, according to a recent study, trucking’s share of the surface freight market will actually continue to grow and by 2023 will hit 70% in the US.

If any good came out of the recession it’s that truckers are sharper and more resilient than ever. For the most part, carriers seem to be doing a better job of managing capacity despite the lure of the siren song of growth that got companies in trouble in past up-cycles.

The driver shortage may be creating a natural drag on capacity growth, but I still sense there is better discipline in the marketplace. I hope it lasts and that the lessons of the recession are not forgotten any time soon.

This does not mean carriers are becoming complacent and allowing opportunities to pass by. It does mean they are treading more cautiously; seeking out quality revenue; and, servicing customers in new, creative ways.

This year’s National Trucking Week – which started as an idea from the Canadian Trucking Alliance in the late ’90s and has flourished into a national celebration of the hundreds of thousands of men and women in this great industry – is a timely reminder to not lose sight of the road ahead because of a few potholes.

More importantly, it’s an opportunity (and it shouldn’t be the only one) for the trucking community in Canada to come together and recognize the folks that drive (in many cases, quite literally) the industry to the position of dominance it enjoys today.
I’m truly convinced that we have yet to fully spread our wings and the best days are ahead of us.  Happy National Trucking Week!


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