By Brian Dunn

The fact that government plays a role in transportation is more acceptable in Canada than in the U.S., mainly because of Canada’s larger dependence on international trade, according to David Collenette, Chairman, Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, North America and former Canadian Minister of Transport. And transportation policy must provide a framework for seamless operations, he told a plenary session at the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal on June 12.

The role of government is to harmonize all types of transportation and not favour one over the other, he said during the session entitled, “Intermodal transportation: The strategic sources of competitive advantage.” To facilitate intermodal trade requires a sound investment strategy to ensure the volume of traffic is enhanced and that Canada, the U.S. and Mexico must work in unison to develop a North American plan and not leave important decisions to individual states, Collenette added.

The “Beyond the Border Action Plan” announced by Canada and the U.S. in December, 2012, commits both countries to make significant investments at key border crossings, said Collenette, and called the recent extension of Highway 30 that allows traffic, particularly trucks, to bypass downtown Montreal, “an incredible piece of inter-modal infrastructure.” He also mentioned the new bridge planned between Windsor and Detroit and improved access roads as part of the action plan.

He concluded that public-private initiatives must play a key role in infrastructure improvements, noting that pension funds like the Caisse de dépôt et de placement du Québec have a great opportunity to invest in these initiatives.

Bill Johnson, Director, Port Miami, said his operations are in step with the private sector as an important economic engine for Miami and the state of Florida. “The port is the second largest economic engine (in South Florida) in terms of GDP, generating $28 billion in economic value. By 2020, our objective is $50 billion. It supplies 207,000 jobs. We want to add 20,000 more by end of the decade.”

Johnson noted that President Obama chose Miami to make his speech about the importance of public-private investments on Good Friday, and said Port Miami was spending $2 billion on infrastructure improvements.

Miami is also the world’s largest cruise terminal with fourteen cruise lines calling, handling about four million passengers a year which will soon hit five million. The cruise industry generates $9 billion to the state coffers, including $4 billion alone for the Miami area, Johnson noted.

With twelve cargo shipping lines calling on Miami, the port has trademarked the slogan, “Cargo gateway to America,” and has deepened its harbour to fifty feet, the same depth as the Panama Canal and the only port south of Virginia at that depth to accommodate post-Panamax ships. Johnson said “America has been out of the game for the last 25 years,” which didn’t register with either George W. Bush or Mr. Obama. Politicians need to heed the warning that the U.S. will not compete in rail, roads or ports unless it improves its infrastructure.

Geoffrey Wilson, President and CEO of Toronto Port Authority (TPA) said that TPA is unique in that it is one of three partners that operate Billy Bishop Airport which is closer to downtown than the length of its 4,000-foot major runway. He noted Toronto recently surpassed Chicago as North America’s fourth-largest city behind Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles and that TPA is a hub for moving both people (Billy Bishop Airport) and freight, primarily bulk cargo (Toronto Port). And despite urban development, Mr. Wilson said Toronto believes the port is key to future prosperity. About 25 per cent of total projected revenue this year will come from the expansion into construction sector services, including warehousing and project staging, he said.

While Great Lakes ports are still vital to the economy, their role increasingly complement a sophisticated intermodal network. Mr. Wilson said the “water highway” is likely to gain new prominence for several reasons. One is the high cost of fuel which makes shipping an attractive mode of transportation as does avoidance of congestion on highways. Shipping is also greener and labour availability is another positive factor. Wilson noted that Billy Bishop Airport has enjoyed an average annual growth of 35 per cent between 2008 and 2012, compared to the Canadian average airport growth rate of just 2.8 per cent and is now the ninth busiest commercial airport in Canada. Growth will be enhanced with the construction of a new pedestrian tunnel between the mainland and Toronto Island.

World trade has grown by leaps and bounds thanks to containerization, according to Peter Ladouceur, Deputy Vice-President, International Sales and Marketing, CN. Containerization has done more for trade in the last 50 years than all free trade agreements combined, he added. “CN accesses 75 per cent of the North American population and handles 20 per cent of Canada’s export trade.” He noted that total transport time from Korea to a Toronto distribution centre via ship, rail and truck is typically 17 days. “To an importer, it is important that goods arrive on time, so speed and consistency are important.” The key is to have inland terminals to receive the goods and that CN is opening more facilities to get more goods to market.

All the speakers addressed the importance of technology in their day-to- day operations. Johnson noted Port Miami wasn’t safety and security compliant a few years ago, but was able to reduce its operating costs significantly and move from the bottom of the pile to the top of U.S. ports by using integrated technology. “It sends a clear message that you’re a progressive port,” he said.

Wilson said that “One of the greatest enhancements today is the ability for shippers to track their cargo due to new technology”.