Crossing the Canada-U.S. border can be like driving an 18-wheeler filled with car parts over Niagara Falls in a thunderstorm across a tightrope being held up by two countries with two levels of governments juggling their wallet, jobs, and political ideology, all the while under threat of terrorist attack.
Bill Anderson, who heads the University of Windsor’s Cross-Border Transportation Centre, has a window onto what’s commonly known as “the border problem.” The Centre is just steps away from the Windsor-Detroit border.
Anderson is an economic geographer – he studies how places relate to one another, and specifically looks at the economic impact of transportation. Through his research, he and his team are attempting to peel back the intricate layers of cross-border transportation policy and look for real solutions.
“If you think of Ontario as a country, it would be one of the most trade-dependent countries in the world – similar to Germany,” says Anderson, who’s also Ontario Research Chair in Cross-Border Transportation Policy.
Cross-border trade with the U.S. makes up about 40 percent of the gross domestic product in Ontario. “If the border doesn’t function well, we lose Ontario’s natural market,” says Anderson.
Though the performance of the border plays a huge role in both the Ontario and Canadian economy, Anderson says there’s not been a lot of academic research about the role of transportation between Ontario and the U.S.
One of the biggest issues is the volatility of the crossing times for the 20,000 trucks that traverse the border per day. Times can vary from 15 minutes to a matter of hours, creating logistical nightmares for companies trying to move goods.
“With technological developments like real-time traffic analysis, we are able to study and predict the delay at the border and traffic on the corridors,” says Anderson. “Our goal is to give drivers accurate information on the route they should take to cross, such as either up to Sarnia or down to Windsor.”
Working with confidential information from companies that frequently move goods across the border, Anderson studies the impact of transportation and border policy on these companies (in particular, those in automotive manufacturing) whose supply chains straddle the border.
“For some goods it can cost between 15 percent and 40 percent more to ship across the border,” he says. “And since there are laws restricting what trucks can carry across the border, it can force trucks to come back empty from the U.S.”
Anderson also looks at the “trusted trader program,” which allows approved companies to streamline their border crossing by having a screening process in their supply chains.
While this process helps to prevent the smuggling of “drugs, bombs, and people,” Anderson says it’s targeted to very large companies that can afford security consultants – which means many smaller Canadian companies can’t take advantage of the program.
Through his research, Anderson hopes to address many of the policy challenges that undermine the Canada-U.S. border to get traffic flowing again and Ontario’s economy growing.