Under a microscope

by James Menzies

CALGARY, Alta. – Canada West Foundation (CWF) has launched a multi-year study into the importance of freight transportation in Western Canada.

The all-encompassing study is aimed at debunking transportation myths, boosting the industry’s image with the public and examining ways of improving efficiency within the industry.

The research project recently got under way in Calgary, and over the next 18 months or so, a series of focus groups will be held in Canada’s four westernmost provinces as a part of the initiative.

CWF senior policy analyst, Robert Roach, says it is a multi-pronged study focusing on a number of different areas of transportation.

“One of the most original things and the main thing we want to look at is whether there are any options for regional coordination in the West in the area of transportation,” says Roach. “For example, are there ways the provincial governments can work together on things like funding or in coordinating infrastructure investment?”

On the industry level, the study will look at ways transportation companies can cooperate in areas such as training and labor development.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of research on best practices available,” says Roach. “One of the things we plan to do is ask what has been tried? What works? What should be tried? We will then come up with some recommendations and options for ways that this can work.”

The ambitious project was launched in synch with an article about the importance of freight transportation to Western Canada’s economy appearing in the winter issue of Western Landscapes. The article acknowledges the transportation and storage industries generate more than six per cent of Western Canada’s gross domestic product while employing six per cent of the Western Canadian workforce.

The article warns, “The elaborate network of ports, waterways, track, roads, bridges … combined with the equipment, businesses and people that transport the goods we buy and sell should not be taken for granted.”

Roach says it’s no secret the transportation industry doesn’t get the respect it deserves, and throughout the duration of the project, CWF will be attempting to raise the industry’s profile with the general public.

“In general we want to do some things to explain to individuals outside the transportation sector the importance of transportation and how important it is to the economy,” says Roach. “Our sense is that people who work in transportation already know that, whereas it doesn’t seem to be well understood by different groups in the public.”

While the study is still in its early stages, CWF has been actively meeting with various transportation groups such as WESTAC and the Van Horne Institute to make sure its efforts aren’t redundant.

“We’re still figuring out what we can do to add some value … to figure out where we can make a difference with specific research,” says Roach. In the end, CWF’s findings will be released through a series of research papers and possibly a conference where all the information will be brought together. The project, which is funded mainly through government granting foundations, is part of the larger initiative called Building a New West.

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