Viewpoint: A glimpse at the future of transportation

by Lou Smyrlis, Editorial Director

What will the trucking company of the future look like? If we were able to look 25 years into the future, how different would our industry be?

They say that the best way to predict the future is to understand the past.

In this case, I’m not sure that advice applies particularly well.

If we look to the past, deregulation clearly stands out as the major agent of change for the industry.

Examine the lists of the top 100 carriers on either side of the border, and you find, within a decade or two, many of the former heavy weights replaced by new entrants. Many of the companies that had grown comfortable under a regulated system simply could not keep up with the fast pace of change and new management strategies required to succeed under a deregulated environment.

Legislation – new border legislation, anti-trust laws and future GHG regulations, for example – remains a potential agent of change for the industry.

But I think today’s large players, their management strategies already tested by the rapid change witnessed the past two decades, are in a much better position to not only survive but thrive in a rapidly changing market.

Many of the large players already see, and are preparing for, a future that is markedly different than current industry reality.

Take Scott Johnston, CEO and CFO at Yanke Group, and I would say one of the brightest minds in the business.

For years now he’s been viewing Yanke not as a trucking company but as a transportation company. It’s an important difference. Yanke’s rail operation has doubled in just the past 24 months.

Twenty five years from now he sees Yanke inverting its current portfolio with full truckload, long haul transportation becoming the smallest portion of its diversified business groups, while its intermodal operation and ocean freight forwarding services become the largest and economically strongest parts of its system.

Ron Tepper, president and CEO of Consolidated FastFrate, has been a leader in this transformation from trucking company to transportation entity.

He’s made a living acting as the arms and legs of CP Rail. Now he’s on the hunt for a partner steamship line to be used as an ocean linehaul carrier.

What these forward-thinking executives have already come to understand is that, in the words of Johnston, “the days when traffic managers controlled the movement of goods from a manufacturing plant in the heartland of Canada or the United States is slowly becoming a thing of the past.”

As freight movements become more global, of course, they become more complicated for both the carrier and the shipper.

Not only will carriers have a tougher time identifying the parties that control the routing of freight but once they do they will have to meet rising shipper expectations for communication, security and value-added services such as warehousing, transloading and pic’n’pak operations.

As Allan Robison, president and CEO of Reimer Express Lines succinctly put it: “You are pretty much going to have a global presence…or you won’t be in the game in 25 years.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail at

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