US-to-Canada trucker border crossings fall nearly 10% in a single week

Continued drop in cross-border truck traffic mirrors broad decline in Canadian freight as COVID-19 crushes demand for nonessential goods.

The number of truck drivers crossing from the U.S. to Canada plunged last week in a sign of how COVID-19 continues to hit the freight markets in both countries.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) reported Tuesday that nearly 10% fewer truckers entered Canada from the United States from March 30-April 5 compared to the previous week. The 79,616 truck driver crossings represent a nearly 29% drop from a year earlier.

The decline in crossings came as volumes of freight continue to plunge in Canada. A key measure of the volume of freight moving on Canada’s trucks, the Outbound Tender Volume Index – Canada (OTVI.CAN) on FreightWaves’ SONAR platform, also declined by nearly 10% last week.

“Across the board, products that aren’t considered essential aren’t shipping,” Dave Cox, president of Canadian cross-border less-than-truckload carrier Polaris Transportation Group, told FreightWaves.

Cox estimated that COVID-19 has led to a 20% drop in typical volumes for this time of year. Nevertheless, Polaris continues to see demand for essential goods like food and medical supplies in both directions.

“They’re steady,” Cox said.

Polaris also has not changed what Cox calls the carrier’s “Greyhound bus schedule” of truck departures to key U.S. markets despite the decline in overall volumes. The carrier would consider cutbacks if routes stopped generating profits, he said.

“Across the board, products that aren’t considered essential aren’t shipping.”

— Dave Cox, president of Polaris Transporation Group

The ability of essential goods to keep moving across the border has come into question after recent disruptions of Canada-bound shipments of personal protective equipment (PPE) from the U.S. Most recently, U.S. authorities halted a shipment of 3 million of 3M’s N95 masks ordered by the Ontario government at the U.S.-Canada border on Sunday.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced it would allow 3M to continue exporting N95 masks to Canada after discussions with the company’s CEO and Canadian officials.

‘We’re moving PPE products — masks and gloves — in both directions’

Despite those disruptions, the CBSA reported it has no indication of issues with supply chains for essential goods coming to Canada, including food and medical supplies.

Polaris also has not had any issues moving essential goods, including PPE vital to health workers in both countries as they face growing volumes of COVID-19 patients.

“We haven’t seen any delays,” Cox said. “We’re moving PPE products — masks and gloves — in both directions.”

Cox wouldn’t detail the specific medical products that Polaris’s trucks but said the overall volume was balanced between the U.S. and Canada.

While Canada does not produce N95 masks yet, the country is a key supplier of an array of medical products, including PPE, medications — and some COVID-19 tests.

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