Ontario minister says modal shift isn’t government decision

HAMILTON, Ont. — The deputy minister of Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation says the province should not be steering shippers toward one transportation mode or another.

“We’re not in the business of picking winners and losers,” said Bruce McCuaig, speaking at the Translog 2010 conference in Hamilton last week.

Bruce McCuaig said efforts to orchestrate a “modal shift” may impinge on shippers’ rights to choose the transportation mode that works for them.

“I’m not sure we should be making particular choices to direct transport onto a particular mode,” he told an audience of supply chain academics.

McCuaig was responding to a question about a presentation by the Rail Association of Canada on Tuesday that advocated for a national “modal shift” program to create incentives for shippers to use rail or marine transport over trucks. The presentation outlined steps taken by Alberta, Quebec, the United Kingdom, and the European Union to reduce truck traffic in their jurisdiction because of concerns about greenhouse gases.

Robert McKinstry, director of policy and economic research for RAC, told the same Translog audience in his presentation that Manitoba, B.C., and Ontario are all considering modal shift policies.

Bruce McCuaig

But McCuaig said he recognizes that shippers select transportation modes for particular reasons – whether it is the kind of market they are serving, the product they are delivering, or the time-constraints involved.

“There’s a whole bunch of reasons why shippers choose a particular mode of transport or in fact choose a logistics chain that involves multiple modes of transport. We should not be trying to influence that choice,” he said. “What we do need to do, I think, is to find ways to better integrate the places where different modes of transport connect and how we can make the overall trip as efficient as possible.”

He said players in all modes attempt to optimize their own operations and the province may have a role to play in making integration of modes more seamless.

“We also have a lot to do to ensure individual modes and the kinds of barriers that exist for making them as competitive as possible are dealt with,” he said. “So whether that’s making a goods movement by truck as efficient as possible and reduce environmental impacts, whether that’s trying to improve access to a marine facility, or whether that’s trying to improve the integration between a rail intermodal facility and the road-based transportation, I think those are all really important places where we can play.”

McCuaig pointed out that not all communities are served equally by all modes.

“I think it’s difficult for any government to say to a community that isn’t on a marine transportation facility, or isn’t on a rail corridor, that they somehow don’t have the same opportunities and advantages as other communities,” he said. “I think we do have to take a holistic perspective and we need to see how all these different modes work together.”

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