Post office could take a lesson from the seaway

Increased rates, lower volumes accepted by major shippers

Like Canada Post, the St. Lawrence Seaway is raising its rates in 2014 even though its volume of business dropped during 2013.

Unlike the protests that have greeted the post office’s plan to raise stamp prices and reduce service, the seaway’s toll increases have been accepted by shippers and marine carriers.

The Seaway Management Corp. has announced a 2.5 per cent increase in tolls for the Canadian locks in the seaway with some incentives for new shipments. Its tolls were frozen for five years, noted Bruce Hodgson, director of market development. “We’ve had to take steps to cover over operating costs as we didn’t get the tonnage increase we needed to do this. People don’t like the increase, but there is recognition that we have to take this step.”

Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the Canadian Shipowners Association, said in an interview that increases are reasonable. “The seaway has to be sustainable and invest in upgrades to its facilities,” he said. “It is making significant investments that we hope will bring more traffic in the future.” The seaway has launched a $400-million program to renew infrastructure.

Both the Shipping Federation of Canada, which represents foreign shipowners, and the Chamber of Maritime Commerce, which represents industries that use the seaway, declined an opportunity to criticize the toll increases.

The seaway moved 37 million tonnes of freight during the 2013 navigation season, about 5.3 per cent lower than 2012. The decline “was a reflection of the performance of the North American economy with weakness in steel production and shipments of cement and other bulk goods. As well, exports of American coal to China slowed during the year compared to 2012.”

From the Grainews website: Moving the grain

Despite a late-season surge in Prairie grain, overall grain tonnage was down 3.2 per cent in 2013. “However, the high volumes of grain currently going into storage and the pent-up demand for grain movements bodes well for the start of the seaway’s 2014 navigation season,” Hodgson added. The late harvest in Western Canada and the cold snap in December complicated grain loading and ship operations. When the seaway reopens in late March, large grain stocks in Thunder Bay could mean a strong start for the shipping season. “We began 2013 with almost no carry-over from the 2012 harvest.”

For other commodities, improving economic conditions in Europe and the United States could also translate into more traffic for the seaway this year, he said.

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