Research forum examines transport trends and potential solutions

WINNIPEG, Man. – Thanks to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a study predicts a reduction in provincial exports for both truck and rail shipments across the country.

The study, which was presented during the Canadian Transport Research Forum (CTRF) conference in Winnipeg May 28-31, indicated that there has been a decline in Canada-US trans-border freight and in trade flows by road and rail when accessing west coast ports.

The same study did reveal, however, that the volume of freight movements along the Quebec City-Windsor corridor is expected to increase, with the greatest rise in demand on imports at ports of clearance in the Atlantic region and Quebec and at airports.

The study, which was presented by Matt Roorda, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto, looked at the impact of the CETA on Canada’s infrastructure. Data was collected from multiple surveys, including the Highway Network (ESRI) and US Commodity Flow Survey Microdata, which analyses more than 4.5 million freight shipments by truck, rail, water, air, parcel and pipeline.

The study narrowed down to 69 economic regions in Canada, and did not simply examine data from a provincial perspective, looking at ports of clearance, which mostly fall along the Canada-US border.

At airport ports of clearance, the domestic mode of transport is by truck, as it is at road border crossings. At rail and marine ports of clearance, the domestic mode of transport is by a combination of truck and rail.

By province, the study showed that the effect of the CETA has resulted in exports dropping in all provinces, with the exception of Quebec, with Alberta seeing a 0.5% fall, B.C. 0.9%, Saskatchewan 0.7% and Manitoba a 0.6% decrease.

Imports were more of mixed bag, but the western provinces still seeing a decline – Alberta 0.3%, B.C. 0.1%, Saskatchewan 0.6% and Manitoba 1.3%.

Another study presented during the conference concluded that those shipping what it called “primary” freight – oil and gas products, agriculture, and forestry – used private trucking carriers 77% of the time.

The same study – factors associated with own-account trucking in Canada – indicated that those in the Atlantic Provinces were most likely to use a private carrier as opposed to their own trucks at 49%. Companies in the Prairie provinces sourced their transportation needs out 42% of the time, B.C. and the Territories 40%, and Quebec was the least likely to employ private carries at 28%, which could be attributed to more prevalent unionization in the province.

Using a sample size of 1,406, the study looked at several factors on why companies decide to either use a private carrier or in-house transportation, including the number of shipments, type of freight, length of trip, and location.

Private trucking was more common when there were higher volumes of shipments, in primary industry, like oil and gas, and in certain provinces.

According to the US Commodity Flow Survey, private trucking accounts for less than one third of goods shipped, both by value and weight.

Aya Hagag presented her study analyzing commodity flow between Canada and the US, and revealed that 74% of the total value of freight moving between the two countries was transported by truck.

Trucks also moved 55% of the total weight, with parcel, postal and courier accounting for 61% of the number of shipments – trucking was 32%.

The study found that the most prominent gateways between the two countries were from New York and Montana coming north.

The Buffalo-Cheektowaga N.Y. gateway sees 21% of the number of shipments come through its location, while Montana comprises 14% coming into Canada.

Hagag added that the next step in the study is to have private trucking carriers added to the statistics for the Trucking Commodity Origin and Destination survey, which would provide more thorough information.

Amai Ghamrawi of the University of Windsor’s Cross-Border Institute made the case for the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) in heavy-duty trucks operating in urban areas.

The study, which focuses on the Greater Toronto Area (Toronto, Hamilton and Windsor), analyzed 211,781 trips and focused on how to combat a lack of infrastructure for the alternative fuel source.

Ghamrawi narrowed down two locations in the GTA where refueling hubs would best be located – one north of downtown Toronto, the other west – and be able to service 64% of existing truck firms in the area.

The study noted that adding a third CNG hub would only boost that service percentage to 68%, and a forth up to 70%.

The potential sites were chosen because there was land available, there was access to a natural gas pipeline, there was a low population, and they were in close proximity to major roadways.

The idea is to employ the use of nighttime refueling, where fueling trucks are dispatched to the various trucking firms in the area to refuel the vehicles, and avoid causing greater congestion on GTA roads during daytime and peak hours.

Ghamrawi said the use of natural gas could reduce fuel costs for companies, use domestic fuel sources, and reduce the environmental impact of diesel.

And despite the potential cost – at present, CNG is 20%-30% cheaper than crude oil-based fuels – Ghamrawi feels companies would buy in.

“Urban goods movement is a real tough nut to crack,” he said. “At the end of the day, everyone is pushing for more environmental sustainability, so if it costs more, I think people would be willing to make that investment.”

The CTRF has held its annual conference for 52 years in various locations across the country, and examine transportation trends and potential for all modes, municipally, provincially, nationally and internationally.

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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