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b2ap3_thumbnail_Estes---Saia_20170407-192111_1.jpgThe big news on the LTL scene in Canada over the past few weeks has been the severing of ties between Estes Express, the number 14 ranked carrier (on the Transport Topics list) in the United States and TST Overland Express, a large Ontario-based LTL carrier that is one of the major divisions of TFI International (formerly known as TransForce), Canada’s giant trucking conglomerate. This is a partnership that has endured for many years.

Estes Express Lines will be teaming up with two regional Canadian less-than-truckload carriers to offer LTL freight services to Canada under an Estes freight bill. Estes will be working with Speedy Transport of Brampton, Ontario, and Pacific Coast Express Ltd. (a division of the Landtran Group) of Surrey, British Columbia, to offer Estes Canada service. The new alliance will start May 22, according to Estes.

The company stated that U.S. shippers will work with only one carrier, Estes, from pickup to delivery, and all freight will be delivered on an Estes delivery receipt. In effect, Speedy Transport and Pacific Coast Express will become agents of Estes. When asked what drove the need for Estes to convert its Canadian service to a direct model, Ed Alderman, Vice President, International and Offshore Sales for Estes, said Estes wants customers to have the same quality Estes customer service experience from shipment to delivery as they have come to depend on domestically.

As reported in Transport Topics, Estes said it is forming dedicated account teams in Canada to provide the same service level that U.S. customers receive. Freight will move across the border in Estes pup trailers equipped with captive beams and Estes’ proprietary Webb walls. This direct method of cross-border shipping is meant to reduce handling of freight and decrease risk of damage, the company said.

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Last week I wrote about the consolidation that is taking place in the freight transportation industry in Canada. Thank you for the many positive comments and feedback. I hope the blog has stimulated some thought about the level of competition in the industry, in view of its domination by some very large players.

One of my longstanding colleagues in the industry, who runs an independent transportation operation in Canada, reminded me that there are a range of very fine companies that compete with the industry giants. As a follow-up to last week’s blog, I thought I would provide an overview of the competition in each sector.

As a starting point, I went back over the top 100 for hire fleets in 2016 as published in Today’s Trucking. They range from Canada’s largest trucking fleet, TFI (TransForce International) with over 26,000 pieces of equipment and almost 25,000 employees to the 100th largest company, Transport Matte, with 321 pieces of equipment and 135 employees. It should be noted that there is a steep falloff after you go from TFI to even the second-place carrier, Mullen Group, that has 13, 645 pieces of equipment and 4410 employees. Clearly, TFI is in a class by itself with not just the most trucks but with by far the largest number of fleets under one roof.

The other big fleets highlighted in the previous blog (i.e. Manitoulin, Day & Ross, Mullen) have also grown disproportionately large through a combination of organic growth and/or acquisition. A glance through the top 100 list displays a range of companies, large and small. So let’s take a look at the major freight transport sectors in Canada.

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This is the sixth and final blog in this series on surface freight transportation within Canada and between Canada and the United States. In this blog I will focus on tips for carriers to help achieve success in the Canadian freight market.

Is the Canadian Freight Market Worth the Investment?

As outlined in the first blog in this series, Canada is a large country, from a geographic perspective, with a population about the size of the state of California. The first question that any American carrier should ask is whether or not Canada is worth the investment in time and resources. As outlined through this series of blogs, when dealing with Canada, there is much to learn about Canadian laws, customs clearance, exchange rates and a host of other issues. Is serving the Canadian market of strategic importance to your company or would another US market (or foreign market) be more profitable? If there is value in the Canadian market, there are a series of steps that need to be undertaken.

Educate yourself on your Canadian freight activity and Canadian carriers

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The last blog in this series examined road and rail transportation within Canada; this blog will focus cross-border freight transportation. Please note that there are a set of processes and procedures (http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog?view=entry&id=241 ) that must be followed in order to move goods successfully between the United States and Canada. Please refer to the second blog in this series for details.

LTL Service

It should first be noted that only a small number of American LTL carriers have a network of terminals across Canada. Con-Way, FedEx Freight, YRC Reimer and ABF service the major points in Central and Western Canada. They work with interline carriers to service the remaining points in each province and territory. There are no Canadian LTL carriers that have extensive LTL networks in the United States. While some Canadian LTL carriers have terminals in selected US locations (i.e. Chicago, Los Angeles), most LTL carriers work with partners on the other side of the border.

The following chart displays the logos of some of the major LTL carriers that service the cross-border freight market.

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This blog will focus on road and rail transportation within Canada; the next blog will look at cross-border freight transportation.

Rail Transportation

As outlined in the first blog in this series, Canada is large land mass with limited population. As a result, Canada’s two class 1 railways, along with the country’s short line carriers, play a very important role in meeting the needs of Canada’s freight industry. The networks of Canada’s two major railways, CN and CP, appear below.

CN Rail is a tri-coastal railway. It connects Canada’s major ports in Eastern Canada to the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, BC, and the major cities in between and then goes through Chicago, IL all the way down to New Orleans, LA on the Gulf of Mexico. CN connects to the major American class 1 railways to supply cross-border service for the points that it does not serve on a direct basis.

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In order to conduct a freight RFP exercise, shippers need to secure historical data on their traffic volumes by type of service (e.g. small parcel, LTL, over the road truckload, intermodal etc.) and freight costs by lane (e.g. origin – destination pair). The data serves two purposes. First, by capturing and sharing shipment activity data, it guides the carriers in creating their bids by helping them understand how the freight will impact their business. Second, the freight cost data serves as a benchmark against which to compare the rates and other carrier data (e.g. transit times) that are received.

To create an accurate data base, the following key elements are required:

a) For small parcel shipments, origin and destination postal codes are essential.

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A sold out crowd attended the 2014 Surface Transportation Summit at the Mississauga Convention Centre on October 15. This year’s conference had 30 speakers and panelists and two networking tracks. While I was not able to attend all of the tracks, here are some of my key takeaways from this year’s sessions on Trends in the Economy and Trucking.

The 2015 Economic Outlook track featured a leading economist and transportation equity analyst along with two trucking company executives. Despite the recent turbulence in the stock market, Carlos Gomes, Senior Economist with the Bank of Nova Scotia, highlighted that the US economy is trending positively and expects this momentum will carry into 2015. Mr. Gomes stated that U.S. and Canadian household balance sheets are in their best shape in some time as interest rates remain low and energy prices have trended lower. In terms of economic activity, orders for manufactured goods in the U.S. have picked up and the number of backlog orders is at the highest level in years.

In addition, annual automobile sales are above 16 million units and will likely remain at elevated levels due to the average age of cars in the U.S. and Canada. Exports are also trending upwards in Canada and should be sustained by the low Canadian dollar and the fact that the U.S. remains Canada’s largest trading partner. This combination of variables suggests that Canada will benefit from the strong relationship with the United States. Mr. Gomes expects GDP growth in Canada of 3.5% this year and 4% next year.

David Newman Equity Research Analyst, Cormark Securities, noted that regulatory changes in the U.S. and driver shortages are leading to pricing improvements in the trucking and rail sectors. These shortages are pushing spot and contract rates upward. Looking at the PMI (Purchasing Manager’s Index) and ISM (Institute of Supply Management) indices, there is momentum in freight volumes. This could support healthy freight activity through the first six months of 2015. Truck orders are back to 2006 levels that reflect the confidence in the economy. Truckload carriers are consolidating with TransForce and Celadon making major acquisitions. Mr. Newman expects more consolidation in the Canadian market but he also expects the truckload division of TransForce to be spun off.

Mark Seymour, President, Kriska Holdings Limited, talked about the “discipline” and technology that Kriska employed to drive improved pricing and profits. This discipline has allowed his company to have a good “run rate” over the past few years. Driver wages and the treatment of drivers are keys to future growth at Kriska. Mark highlighted the requirement for short term (one year) pricing with long term commitments (“annual pricing conversations”).

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For many years, industry experts have been predicting a consolidation in the Canadian freight industry. During and after the Great Recession, the decibel level of these warnings increased as most trucking companies faced the challenges of reduced freight volumes, sinking rates and the difficulty of managing a business during recessionary times. In fact, the industry did shrink by an estimated fifteen percent during the downturn, not through acquisition, but through companies closing their doors or parking equipment.

As one looks back over the past five years, the Canadian economy has been recovering, albeit painfully slowly. There has been some growth in GDP and in jobs, largely in the west. During this same period, the Canadian freight industry has been consolidating and continues to consolidate. This has been driven by a host of factors.

There were and still are willing sellers. Many trucking company owners, particularly those in the baby boomer generation, without a succession plan, or with poor prospects for survival, saw the sale of their business as the most logical business option. For some, the challenge of hanging on during the Great Recession, took some of the appeal out of the business. That coupled with the option of creating a retirement fund was a desirable route to follow.

The post-recession business climate brought a host of challenges. Just as trucking company owners are getting older, so are truck drivers. Young men and women are not interested in becoming long haul truck drivers, dealing with crossing the Canada – US border, spending weeks away from their families, for $40,000 to $50,000 per year. The driver shortage, coupled with rising costs of fuel and equipment, low margins, increasing technological sophistication and regulatory changes, have made life much more difficult, particularly for small fleets with limited access to capital.

In addition, there were and still are willing buyers. Some of the larger trucking companies and conglomerates have been active buyers. Take a look at the websites of the large truckers to see the list of companies that have been acquired. The larger fleets have seized the opportunity to increase market share, to enter new markets, and/or to acquire new drivers, equipment and management talent. With TransForce’s acquisition of Contrans, we are now seeing a very large conglomerate devour a large conglomerate. What does this all mean for the Canadian freight industry?

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014. Since the enactment of NAFTA in 1994, trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico has increased almost 200 percent to an estimated $930 billion. The cross-border flow of goods between the U.S. and Canada has grown to $400 billion.

A new U.S. Transportation Department report shows three of the five surface transportation modes, truck, rail and pipeline, carried more U.S. trade with North American Free Trade Agreement partners Canada and Mexico by value in 2013 than compared to the year before. Most U.S.- Canada trade in 2013, 83.6%, was carried on the surface modes of truck, rail and pipeline. Trucks carried 54.4%, followed by rail at 16.7%, pipeline at 12.6%, vessel at 5.7% and air at 4.5%.

Michigan led all states in trade with Canada in 2013 with $74.6 billion. Of the top 10 states for U.S.-Canada trade in 2013, Washington had the highest percent change over 2012, a 6.4% increase. The top commodity category transported between the U.S. and Canada in 2013 was mineral fuels, valued at $134.1 billion, with $79.2 billion or 59.1% moved by pipelines. The next highest commodity category transported by a single mode in U.S.- Canada trade was vehicles and vehicle parts (other than railway vehicles and parts) with $66.1 billion in trade moved by trucks. Cross-border trade via truck and rail continues to show positive trade growth for Canada and the United States. The growth continues as freight transportation providers on both sides of the border strengthen their relationships with cross-border shippers.

Transforming words and good intentions into more concrete and long-term action, both the United States and Canada are promoting greater economic growth and jobs through a stronger, more visible commitment to regulatory cooperation. With greater opportunities for growth on the horizon, trucking companies on both sides of the border have bolstered their cross-border service offerings to accommodate trade. While Canada and the United States have been good friends for many years and have the longest unpatrolled border in the world, they are distinctly different countries. The two countries have different geographies, climates, cultures, currencies, populations, laws and transportation systems. A failure to understand the unique features of each country can lead to fines, service problems and unhappy customers.

As an example, Canadian e-Commerce is expected to grow at a double-digit pace over the next few years, and U.S. businesses are increasingly tapping in to that $32 billion annual market. But the not-so-good news is that businesses are bumping into unexpected challenges in transporting those goods from the U.S. to their Canadian consumers. A new research brief, “Canadian e-Commerce Presents New Opportunities for U.S. Businesses,” details those challenges, and also highlights ways in which U.S. businesses are overcoming those obstacles. The research brief details findings of a study conducted by Peerless Research Group in which supply chain managers were queried about issues with U.S./Canada e-Commerce shipping.

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