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Port Task Force releases final report

VANCOUVER, B.C. - The Task Force examining this summer's container hauler dispute at the Port of Vancouver has released its findings to the federal and provincial governments....

VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Task Force examining this summer’s container hauler dispute at the Port of Vancouver has released its findings to the federal and provincial governments.

The 79-page report outlined how to best prevent future labour disruptions at the port while balancing the needs of container haulers, shippers, carriers and the port itself.

Among the recommendations are some operational changes which should improve the overall efficiency of the port and reduce wait time for drivers. However, the report also touches on the possibility of re-regulating the container trucking industry and enforcing pre-set rates.

The B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) has vigorously opposed the idea of setting rates.

“Clearly, regulating the trucks serving the port is not the preferred option but there appears to be an appetite to do as much as possible to ensure there’s not a repetition of the instability we saw over the course of the summer,” says BCTA president, Paul Landry.

“We think there are some real challenges in terms of the regulatory system that has been proposed. We want to see a system that is the least intrusive and one that would be effective.”

The BCTA hopes the operational suggestions contained in the report will be adopted by the port and that alone will go a long way towards improving the flow of containers through the system.

“We prefer the improvements in terms of operational processes (that will lead) to improved productivity at the port and improved throughput of trucks which would help restore stability to the port,” Landry says.

Some of the operational processes laid out in the report have already been put into place, the Vancouver Port Authority (VPA) says.

The port is in the midst of a pilot project that extends the hours of operation at truck gates and it is adopting a mandatory reservation system. It’s also implementing a monitoring program that will track truck wait times and allow truckers to better plan their pickup times.

“Extended hours will increase capacity and efficiency by reducing congestion at terminals and on the region’s roads, making better use of existing transportation infrastructure, reducing air emissions and enabling truckers to move a greater number of containers in a given shift,” says Jim Cox, the VPA’s vice-president responsible for infrastructure development.

But whether or not operational enhancements alone are enough to return stability to the Port of Vancouver remains to be seen. There are still those who would like to take it a step further and regulate rates.

“There is little agreement among stakeholders on an appropriate future regulatory environment that may be available to the provincial or federal governments,” the report reads.

It added that most stakeholders would support a port authority-imposed licensing regime provided it didn’t involve setting fixed rates.

The ports themselves voiced concern about being put in a position where they have to licence users, preferring either a free market approach or a fully-regulated regime enforced by the Canadian Transportation Agency.

While it appears all stakeholders have their own opinion about how to restore stability to the port, the one thing they have in common is that everybody wants the same end result, including the truckers themselves.

For their part, the truckers comprising the Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association (VCTA) are moving towards full union certification by joining up with the Canadian Auto Workers.

Container hauler spokesman, Ken Halliday, says the truckers have joined CAW Local 2006 and the drivers are now awaiting certification, adding a sense of urgency to the process.

In the meantime, the feds have extended the 90-day Order in Council in an attempt to buy some more time to finalize a long-term solution.

Meanwhile, the BCTA is doing its part to move things along in a constructive manner, Landry says.

“We’re not categorically rejecting anything,” he told Truck News. “We want to work with the shippers, the port and the provincial and federal government in a very constructive way. The port has a bright future here and that future depends on all of us working together.”

Timeline of events:

June 27, 2005 – Owner/operators serving the Port of Vancouver withhold their services in a protest of rates and other conditions such as wait times.

June 30 – Mediator Vince Ready is assigned the task of reaching an agreement between the two sides. Both sides welcomed Ready to the table but a resolution was not reached.

Mid-late July – The Port of Vancouver was crippled by the ongoing strike and the national transportation system was feeling the strain.

July 29 – The feds intervene in an attempt to reach a negotiated settlement. The government takes action under Sec. 47 of the Canada Transportation Act, establishing a 90-day window of opportunity for the parties involved to come to terms.

Aug. 5 – The government takes further action under the Canada Transportation Act and requires the Vancouver Port Authority and Fraser River Port Authority to adopt a licensing system for carriers serving the ports. As a result, trucking companies must sign a controversial Memorandum of Agreement with the Vancouver Container Truckers’ Association. In an odd twist, carriers not involved in the dispute in the first place were also required to sign the MoA.

Aug. 8 – A three-member Task Force is established to examine the issues at hand and report on the issues associated with the trucking dispute. The Task Force is comprised of labour lawyer Eric Harris, former director of ports with Transport Canada, Randy Morris and former deputy minister to B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, Ken Dobell.

Nov. 4 – The final Task Force report, entitled Final Report of the Task Force on the Transportation and Industrial Relations Issues Related to the Movement of Containers at British Columbia Lower Mainland Ports is released.

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