In 2013, Port Metro Vancouver further consolidated its position as, by far, the largest port in Canada and the largest export port in North America. Cargo volumes through Port Metro Vancouver reached record-setting levels in 2013, with a total throughput of 135 million tonnes. Bulk cargo volumes grew 11 per cent over 2012 levels, to 92.7 million tonnes, on the strength of record coal and grain shipments, while breakbulk volumes rose two per cent over 2012 volumes. Containers saw a four per cent increase over the previous year’s volumes, reaching 2.83 million TEUs and the port welcomed 22 per cent more cruise ship passengers in 2013. Automobile imports remained level, reflecting a steady shift to North American production. The upward trend in all other volumes reflect the strengthening global economy, and are driven by bulk exports and the continued growth in containerized imports.

“We’re seeing the same trend continuing for 2014,” says Robin Silvester, Port Metro Vancouver President and CEO. Compared to the same period last year, the port’s mid-year volumes are up 3.6 per cent. “Grain is on target for a record year, with many stakeholders, particularly the federal government, focused on ensuring the product moves. And it looks like another strong year for coal.” Container volumes have recovered with unanticipated shipments related to labour negotiations at U.S. west coast ports balancing out the reduced levels resulting from a harsh winter and the March 2014 trucker’s dispute. Silvester adds that they’re also working with two breakbulk terminals to improve the port’s ability to handle project cargo, having seen a stronger demand for overweight/oversized cargo needed for western Canadian energy projects. “Overall, we expect to see steady growth in all major sectors, in large part enabled by the numerous infrastructure projects we’re now delivering on.”

These land-side infrastructure projects were carried out under the Gateway Improvement Program, a $700 million investment in off-terminal transportation capacity expansion within three critical gateway corridors. Many projects involved grade separations that have increased rail corridor capacity in each corridor by up to 60-to-100 per cent, with added benefits accruing to both commercial and local road traffic. Alongside this program, the private sector has invested in their marine terminals including $500 million at Westshore coal terminal, more than $300 million in expanding coal and potash capacity at Neptune Terminal, and $200 million invested in Richardson terminal. With the Gateway Improvement Program, “we worked to ensure the government funding was available, we prefunded the industry component and we set up the process through which these improvements were ultimately decided upon and completed. And to their credit, the private sector stepped up and are providing even more in terms of facilities. We are very pleased that our strategy is coming together as planned,” explains Silvester.

The port is not only ready for growth but is committed to facilitating Canada’s trade objectives in a sustainable way and with regard for local communities.

Continuing as a leader in sustainability

In 2014, Port Metro Vancouver released its fourth Sustainability Report and its leadership in sustainability has been recognized globally, including Sir Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room taking notice of the Port’s EcoAction program. And, according to Silvester, this reflects the port’s focus on trying to balance economic, environmental and social interests. “The whole concept of sustainability involves embedding it in to everything we and our gateway stakeholders do, from recycling in the office to shore power, not as an add-on for business but as a core part of it.” He states that Port Metro Vancouver programs like EcoAction have provided a short-term financial incentive, such as reduced harbour dues to recognize shipping lines that use emission-reduction measures. “But they’re incentives for things they’re starting to look at already, because they’re the right thing to do. And even if they might not give an immediate payback, given the cost of installing emission reduction measures or configuring for shore power, at least the incentives we are providing are giving some sort of economic benefit over the longer term.”

Future plans take into account limited land availability

Port Metro Vancouver is stepping up to the challenge of managing growth where land availability is an issue. The port’s revised Land Use Plan, scheduled for delivery by year end, identifies environmentally sensitive parcels, opportunities for recreational or community-based uses of port lands and maps out areas where potential port-related industrial development will take place. “What the plan also highlights,” says Silvester, “is that there’s limited land out there.” Consequently, Port Metro Vancouver is acquiring industrial land where possible and is looking at the option of planning development on newly created land such as for the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project. Another response to the scarcity of industrial land has been to create capacity through operating efficiencies. Examples of this include Neptune Terminals, where the terminal’s investment in infrastructure will more than double throughput within the same footprint of land.

These approaches will not, however, secure the amount of land required to support the continued growth of trade through the gateway. Silvester sees the need for a more regional approach to managing industrial land, something akin to the highly successful Agricultural Land Reserve, in order to protect the remaining supply. “Part of the port’s responsibility is to enable trade which is why we are advocating to get the issue on the map and get some protection in place for the remaining parcels of industrial land that will support the future economy of the Lower Mainland.”

Collaboration and consultation are key to port’s successful growth

The success of the port depends greatly on the relationships built with First Nations, local communities, government, customers and all industry stakeholders. In 2013 alone, Port Metro Vancouver held or participated in 524 community engagement events and public consultations. “When we understand the concerns of the communities in our jurisdiction, we can better address them in the projects we’re involved with,” says Silvester. This reflects a clear expectation among stakeholders that they will be engaged in the port’s development.

Port Metro Vancouver will also focus heavily on continued collaboration to better understand and add value to customers’ supply chains. The port continues to develop clear, objective data that, according to Silvester, will be shared with stakeholders and used as a basis to drive further improvements. And stakeholders continue to gather around the table to discuss opportunities to work together to meet the increasing demand for trade in Canada. As with the Asia Pacific Gateway Corridor Initiative (APGCI), the federal government’s New Build Canada Plan through funds, such as the National Infrastructure Component, creates opportunities for collaboration toward resolving the next set of potential bottlenecks in key trade corridors. “What made APGCI so successful was that we had two levels of government, the municipalities and the railways, all investing in an agreed upon set of projects. As a result the private sector has invested as well. And we want to replicate that,” says Silvester. “This sort of collaboration is easy to talk about but difficult to deliver, yet is a key factor in the success we’re seeing in the gateway.”