I would like to tell you a tale of two cities. The tale is more than 150 years old but it contains an important lesson about how attitude and strategy towards transportation can either help or hinder ...
I would like to tell you a tale of two cities. The tale is more than 150 years old but it contains an important lesson about how attitude and strategy towards transportation can either help or hinder our economy today.
In the mid-1800s, the new railway technology was poised to provide a major east-west link across the continent, opening up the west for unprecedented development and trade. The railways wanted the main junction to pass through St. Louis, which at the time was the dominant city in the Midwest and the fourth largest in the US.
But St. Louis city officials were fearful of this new way of thinking. They had built their economy on the strength of the Mississippi River trade and wanted to protect it. They refused to allow a bridge to be built across the Mississippi because they wanted the people and goods coming by train to be ferried across the river by barges. By their actions, they chose to become a boulder in the rushing stream representing this new way of moving people and goods across the country.
North of St. Louis, however, was a small town with large ambitions and ready to go with the flow. It was more than willing to be the railway hub and allow trains to pass through it and exchange passengers and cargo without barriers, giving the new rail network the efficiencies necessary to thrive. With such an attitude, within a few years the growing town was served by 11 railways and 100 trains a day passed through it.
St. Louis’ protectionist strategy reduced the city to a secondary position on the rail network, and its once dominant economy gradually deteriorated and never really recovered. On the other hand, the small town with large ambitions that chose openness over barriers thrived. We know it today as Chicago.
We face a similar St. Louis versus Chicago type of decision in Canada today. As a trading nation with ambitions to capture a larger slice of the global pie, our transportation strategy plays a huge role in driving our competitiveness. Unfortunately, our competitiveness, both globally and domestically, has been undermined all too often by the protectionist, silo mentality practiced by too many of our provincial transport ministers and bureaucrats. It has made for a dog’s breakfast of provincial regulations and standards that makes anyone trying to ship products across the country want to pull their hair out. And the incremental thinking that has gripped provincial transportation departments for decades, combined with Ottawa’s apathy and/or ignorance, has kept it that way far too long.
Last August, Canada’s Premiers came to their senses, it appears, and announced they would be working to harmonize transportation regulatory codes and eliminate those standards and regulations that are “unjustifiable” barriers to trade in the transportation sector. The premiers instructed their ministers responsible to do this work by July.
With that deadline just a few months away, the Canadian Trucking Alliance is anxious to see signs progress on those promises is being made and has written to the Council of the Federation (whose membership is made up of the provincial Premiers). The CTA rightly points out that the lack of harmonization in trucking regulations is most harmful in three key areas: the National Safety Code (NSC) for Trucks, truck weights and dimensions standards, and taxes on new tractors and trailers.
But as the CTA cautions, there are still obstacles to overcome. The CTA is not sure whether the hodgepodge of trucking regulations meets governments’ definition of a “trade barrier,” and to that end, which ones will be deemed “unjustifiable.”
What’s required to make progress on this important front is boldness. The boldness to realize that the silo mentality presented by these regulations just doesn’t cut it in a world bent on “going big;” the boldness to embrace a new, more open, way of thinking, and the boldness to move quickly to remove these outdated regulations that place our transportation system in a straight jacket. That’s as true today as it was when St. Louis and Chicago faced the decisions that ultimately shaped their future.
And, as St. Louis found out, trade is much like water. It will take the path of least resistance.
“People get too caught up in the economic numbers. In a recession the reality is there is still tonnes of freight moving and you simply have to be better than your competitors to get it.”
-Mike McCarron, MSM Transportation
Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry. All posts by Truck News