Transportation sector and cross-border traffic slow by more than half

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell


Perhaps nowhere better illustrates the economic disaster of COVID-19 than seeing a 43 per cent decline in truck traffic crossing the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit.
The busiest crossing point on the Canada-U.S. border normally sees 8,000-10,000 trucks per day, but instead only 4,000 vehicles are making the trip, according to the study released Thursday by the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corp.’s COVID-19 task force.
“Not only are the number of trucks crossing the border down, but the value of the goods they’re transporting is down as well,” said Susan Anzolin, executive director of the Institute of Border Logistics and Security.
“About ninety per cent of the decline is related to the auto industry shutting down. Those auto parts, vehicles and manufactured goods are worth a lot more than the food stuffs being hauled now.”
Anzolin said the daily value of the goods crossing the border normally would be about half a billion dollars.
In addition to reduced truck traffic at the bridge, overall traffic at the Windsor-Detroit tunnel is down 55 per since March 1.
The truck ferry between the two cities has also ceased operations for lack of traffic.
Windsor’s isolation is heightened with no commercial flights out of the city’s airport until at least the end of May.
“We are isolated right now and that concerns me,” Anzolin said. “If airlines are struggling to fly, will they bother to resume flights out of a regional hub like Windsor when things open up again? The airport was looked at as a great economic opportunity for growth.”
However, the airport is a small player when compared to the logistics/transportation and warehousing sector in the area.
The industry employs 10,000 people spread across 2,600 businesses in Windsor-Essex.
“We’re down 70 to 80 per cent,” said Steve Ondejko, past chair of the Ontario Trucking Association and president of one of the area’s largest trucking firms Onfreight Logistics.
“We’d normally have 85 trucks on the road each day. We’re probably at 10 to 15 per day now.”
In addition to Onfreight, Ondejko oversees Tecumseh’s Onsort Material Management and the London-based automotive sub-assembly plant Aslon Management.
“(Aslon) is completely shut down,” Ondejko said.
“We do a lot of automotive, so it’s mostly food stuffs, alcohol and some supplies for health care and hospitals that are keeping the trucks going.”
Laser Transport vice-president Adam Pernasilici said only about five to 10 per cent of the company’s 75 to 80 trucks are operating.
“We primarily haul steel and auto parts, so we’ve ground to a halt,” Pernasilici said.
“We’ve kept a small reserve of capacity for relief and emergency efforts. We do that for free.”
Both Ondejko and Pernasilici said there’s been no issue finding drivers to work because of the lower volume of traffic.
Ondejko said though things are growing more challenging at the border, he doesn’t anticipate any supply chain problems for essentials, such as food, in the near future.
“As of (Thursday) all drivers crossing the border are required by the U.S. and Canadian governments to wear a mask and gloves,” Ondejko said. “We’re deemed an essential service, but the border is getting tighter.”
Pernasilici said the short-term challenges for companies are keeping as many employees working, cash flow and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board premiums.
“The WSIB premiums are a major issue right now,” Pernasilici said.
“For employers who are using the wage subsidies, the WSIB premiums are built on top of that. I’d pay $10,000 per month in WISB fees and workers compensation for drivers to sit at home.”
Pernasilici said there will be casualties in the industry because of the pandemic.
However, the post-pandemic period is going to be equally challenging for even the stronger firms to navigate.
“The restart period is going to be interesting because people will have serious cash flows to get going,” Pernasilici said.
“It’s going to be tight because most receivables will be dried up. There’ll be no cash coming in for 30 to 60 days and you’ll have to fund a rapid deployment of the entire fleet.”