In 2004, the Canadian Transportation Agency marks 100 years of service to Canadians in motion. I believe, as this history of transportation regulation chronicles, that the Agency and its predecessors reflect nothing less than the evolution of Canada itself, its economic development and its changing place in the world.
On February 1, 1904, the Board of Railway Commissioners, with its authority over railways, was established as the Canadian government's first independent regulatory body.
That first board, with the full powers of a Superior Court, became the model for not only the transportation agencies that succeeded it, but for federal regulators in other fields as well. It is not surprising that the Canadian government's regulatory history would have been pioneered by a transportation board. The sheer vastness of our country has made transportation perhaps the most fundamental and critical component of Canadian economic and political development. Over time, uniquely Canadian institutions have been created to ensure that the public good is protected in the development of our transportation systems.
That first Board of Railway Commissioners, with jurisdiction over railway freight rates, construction and line abandonment, among other things, was quite regimented in its approach. It existed for 34 years, from the heyday of railway expansion when railway promoters rushed hither and yon to lay down new tracks, until the Depression-era retrenchment of railways and the emergence of competition from automobiles and aircraft.
The Board of Transport Commissioners was created in 1938 to succeed the first board and assume additional authority over air and marine matters. However, the Government of Canada, seeking a tighter rein on the airline industry, went on to create a separate Air Transport Board in 1944. In 1947, the Canadian Maritime Commission assumed authority over marine matters.
The Canadian Transport Commission (CTC), which emerged in 1967, was created to deal with all modes of transportation as a competitive whole. Part of its mandate was to rationalize the over-built and under-used railways. It was a difficult time for the Canadian railways and their customers, a time I recall from when I was living on the Prairies. A railway was allowed to apply to abandon rail lines, but the CTC was required to hold hearings to determine if the service was required in the public interest, in which case the service would be continued and the railway would be compensated. Otherwise, lines were abandoned. It was an unwieldy and costly process.
In the early 1980s, Canada embraced the international trend toward deregulation. The most notable development during that period was the Staggers Act, which deregulated railways in the United States. Deregulation of airlines followed. The move to deregulation in Canada was more gradual and balanced, and it led to the creation of the National Transportation Agency in 1987.
That trend toward less-intrusive regulation has continued with the Canadian Transportation Agency in 1996 and its regime is certainly the least-regulated in our country's history. Competition and market forces are now the drivers, as opposed to strict rules. Railways and airlines are mainly free of rate regulation. They have freedom of market entry and exit, as well as freedom to abandon operations. Airlines are still regulated under the terms of international agreements but, domestically, they can operate with relatively little intrusion by government.
Today, the Agency deals much differently with its clients and constituents than in the past. Whereas its predecessors maintained a distance from their clients, the Agency today reflects how the world has changed to become more user-friendly, more citizen-focused. Still mindful that we are a court and must maintain independence and impartiality, we at the Agency feel strongly that we have a responsibility to the public, carriers and consumers to ensure they are fully aware of their rights and obligations under the Agency's governing legislation. Our emphasis now is on communication and outreach. At the same time, we strive to keep up with developments in the transportation industry, to be informed and tuned in.
We have shifted away from regulatory means whenever possible to finding solutions through voluntary approaches. This is especially true in the area of accessible transportation for persons with disabilities. The mid-1990s saw two significant sets of regulations developed, the Terms and Conditions of Carriage for People with Disabilities and the Training Regulations for Personnel Dealing with Persons with Disabilities. Both are far-reaching and apply to all federally-regulated carriers. In the years since these initiatives were introduced, we have increasingly sought voluntary compliance through codes of practice, rather than by formal regulation.
These codes of practice were hammered out by the Agency, the community of persons with disabilities and the carriers; of course, they involved lots of consultation, listening and refinement. But we were successful in putting the codes in place and in setting target dates for their implementation; with service standards for all modes of transportation – rail, air and marine. That has been quite a significant shift in our regulatory approach – from enforcement to voluntary compliance and monitoring.
The position of Air Travel Complaints Commissioner, established in 2000 and now held by Liette Lacroix Kenniff, represents another method of resolving complaints through facilitation and persuasion, rather than through a regulatory process. The Commissioner reports to the Transport Minister and to Parliament twice a year and uses public awareness to encourage carriers to treat customers fairly.
In the past two years, the Agency has been offering a new service to clients to resolve disputes through mediation. Our experience to date indicates a 95 per cent success rate in helping the parties find their own solutions, quickly and inexpensively. We intend to continue to provide mediation as an alternative dispute resolution process.
The role of transportation regulation has always been to balance the interests of shippers and consumers against the interests of carriers. There is a natural tension between users and providers of transportation. Users always want better service and lower costs while providers want more business and more revenue.
Balancing those interests was the challenge presented to the Board of Railway Commissioners when it first met on a snowy February day 100 years ago. Since then, the one constant has been the need for a regulatory body committed to balancing these diverging interests in a fair and transparent manner. That will remain the Agency's goal as it continues to adapt to the changing landscape of transportation in Canada.
Marian L. Robson
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer February 2004