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CALGARY, Alta. - The City of Calgary may be best known around the world as the host of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but truckers and transportation companies realize there's a lot more to the c...

CALGARY, Alta. – The City of Calgary may be best known around the world as the host of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but truckers and transportation companies realize there’s a lot more to the city than rodeo bulls and Stetson hats.

Many large fleets call Calgary home, and with major distribution centers and warehouses popping up all around the city’s perimeter, the importance of freight transportation has never been more paramount.

However the city is not without its challenges. Calgary’s population has skyrocketed in recent years, but its road network hasn’t been updated to support the additional traffic. And as other Western Canadian cities, such as Edmonton, mimic Calgary’s growth, its status as Western Canada’s distribution hub may be in danger.

On Mar. 6, the Van Horne Institute held a one-day conference called Reality Check 2002: Calgary’s Transportation and Logistics Sector Moving Forward, to examine the issue. It couldn’t have come at a better time, with the recent demise of Calgary-based TCT Logistics fresh on everyone’s mind.

Right off the bat, delegates were hit with some numbers indicating Edmonton is nipping at Calgary’s heels in a number of key areas, while actually setting the pace in others.

In addition, Fred Robinson, president of Transportation and Logistics Consulting adds, “Edmonton is taking a clear lead in terms of transportation infrastructure.”

“I find it quite disturbing that the cost of serviced land is higher (here) than in Edmonton,” says Walter Krancevic, director of international transportation logistics services with Milne and Craighead.

Krancevic, whose company is a division of Canadian Freightways, says a number of other challenges have emerged while doing business in Calgary.

“Sixty-five per cent of our national accounts are not based here,” says Krancevic. “People will buy from people they know and trust and it’s hard to have a relationship with people when they’re 3,000 kilometres away.”

However he says Western carriers can address this issue by hiring account executives based in Toronto to meet with potential clients, drumming up more business.

Another issue – one that plagues all of Canada – is the current driver shortage. However, it is exacerbated in Calgary, since new immigrants who could potentially plug the hole see Toronto and Vancouver as the cities of choice.

“We need to make Calgary a more attractive option,” says Krancevic.

However, the biggest area of concern emerging from the conference was Calgary’s lack of a ring road or some type of East-West bypass around the city. Currently, as truckers hauling through Calgary en-route to Vancouver will attest to, it simply takes too much time to get through the city on Hwy. 1.

“Edmonton has a ring road,” points out Krancevic. “Some of our roads here certainly need to be improved soon.”

Trevor Dickie, vice-president and general manager of Kleyson Transport’s Calgary distribution center, agrees the most pressing issue facing Calgary is the need to improve the roads.

“If you connect (an east-west corridor) through, it gives us an outlet for traffic, it takes a lot of stress off Glenmore Trail and Barlow and you get better life out of the infrastructure,” says Dickie. “It also separates residential and industrial traffic.”

When Kleyson built its transloading facility several years ago, finding affordable land was also a key priority that drew the company to Calgary. But with land prices continuing to rise, will this always be the case?

“With our search criteria for our industry, recognizing that I’m not building computer chips … if I plug $235,000 per acre into the equation, I’m essentially out of business unless my receivers want to pay me $12 per tonne to transport steel,” says Dickie.

Increased cooperation between rail and truck in Calgary was also highlighted and celebrated at the event.

Vince Gogan, assistant vice-president of strategy and research with Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway, says the age-old rivalry between the two modes of transport is giving way to intermodal partnerships.

“We view truckers much differently,” says Gogan. “What we’re trying to do is take the best of the railway and the best of the trucking industry and bring them together.”

Dickie, whose company’s transloading division provides regional deliveries for Canadian National (CN) Railway, agrees.

“You will see just as many trucks running around town, but the decrease will be the number of trucks running from here to Toronto,” says Dickie.

With a number of the speakers at the conference taking pot shots at the provincial and federal governments, it was only fair they were given the chance to represent their views.

Roy Matson was representing Transport Canada, and he took the opportunity to point out the problem of urban congestion can’t be solved by simply building more roads.

“I would suggest that additional capacity is not the answer,” says Matson. He says a better system for moving people will help clear the roads for freight haulers. “If we are able to get more people out of cars then we can clean up congestion and free up capacity,” he says.

Meanwhile, Rod Thompson was representing Alberta Transportation, and while he acknowledged there are some infrastructure challenges ahead, he insists Alberta trucking companies have it pretty good.

“Trucking has the lowest provincial costs here,” says Thompson. “This should put our carriers in a good position to compete in the U.S.”

He noted fuel taxes are lower in Alberta than in states such as Idaho, Montana and Washington. However, he did admit it is crucial to continue to maintain highways in the region.

“We’re being asked to do more and more with less and less and we’re not sure how we’re going to achieve that,” says Thompson. “That’s a big order.”

Although maintaining Calgary as an important Western distribution hub isn’t without its challenges, everyone agreed at the end of the day the city still provides the Calgary Advantage making it attractive to the trucking industry. By improving the city’s road infrastructure, delegates agreed they could fend off any challengers for the lofty title of Western Canada’s hub city.

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