Supply lines are moving slower across the U.S./Canada border, especially in the Detroit area, as protests continue throughout Canada in the wake of Covid-19 vaccine mandates affecting truck drivers, which took effect in January.
Data from supply chain visibility platform FourKites showed changes in on-time delivery, shipment volume, and wait times as the vaccine mandates went into effect the weeks of January 15 (for U.S. to Canada travel) and January 22 (for Canada to U.S. travel), and the company is continuing to track volatile conditions, especially at the Detroit/Windsor, Ontario, border, which is the busiest land crossing between the two countries and a vital corridor for auto industry trade.
Glenn Koepke, FourKites’ senior vice president for customer success, said the situation marks one more in a long line of supply chain disruptions companies have had to deal with in the past two years. He said the slowdowns and lower shipment volumes will be “pretty significant” over the next week or two in the Detroit area, with residual effects in the broader regions on both sides of the border.
“I think folks didn’t anticipate as much of a reaction to what happened [after the vaccine mandates and protests], and it immediately was reflected in poor on-time data [and] decreased performance,” Koepke said. “We see a shift in volume as well.”
FourKites tracked a 9% decrease in on-time delivery performance, a 7% decrease in total shipment volume, and a 17% increase in average wait times for all U.S./Canada cross border shipments the week of January 15, compared to the previous week.
On-time delivery performance fell 4% and average border wait times increased 8% the week of January 22, with no decrease in shipment volume. On-time delivery performance for U.S. to Canada shipments have since improved, but the data show declining rates for deliveries from Canada to the United States, likely due to continuing effects from protests and blockades, Koepke said. Wait times from the U.S. to Canada were trending downward by roughly 30% as of this past Monday, but wait times from Canada to the U.S. were up by 20% or more compared to the previous week.
As of Thursday morning, Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge, which Koepke says typically handles around 8,000 trucks a day crossing the border, remained temporarily closed.
Automotive production lines face the most immediate threat, but Koepke said he expects impacts on the customer fulfillment side over the next few weeks as companies deal with delays and the need to re-route deliveries.
“We’ll see a slowdown in inbound raw materials shipments, a slowdown in production, and customer deliveries,” he said.
As of Wednesday, major automakers in the region had closed some operations and reduced shifts as a result of shortages.
The cross-border vaccine mandates have spurred protests against the Canadian government’s broader Covid-19 restrictions. Led by the “Freedom Convoy” of truckers that made its way across the country to the capital city of Ottawa last week, the protests have attracted people from all over Canada and are impeding business and trade in Ottawa, Windsor, and elsewhere.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which has said it opposes the protests, released a statement this week urging government and business leaders to work together to end the blockades.
“The patience of drivers and the vast majority of the trucking industry regarding these blockades has long-since expired. The trucking industry and its drivers are paying a heavy price for the unlawful actions of those who choose to politicize and target our borders and highways and choke off trade between Canada and the United States. Their actions simply hurt Canadians and they have shown a blatant disregard for all the lives they are impacting,” CTA President Stephen Laskowski said in the statement.
U.S. trade groups have also weighed in on the issue. Earlier this week, the Missouri-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) sent letters to both the Biden Administration and to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Troudeau asking that truck drivers be excluded from the cross-border vaccine mandates, as they were under previous Covid-19 restrictions. OOIDA has more than 150,000 members in North America, including 1,000 Canadian drivers. The group says the nature of the drivers’ work and their status as essential workers should exclude them from the mandates.
“Throughout the Covid-19 emergency, professional truckers have been risking their lives to deliver critical goods to communities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Prior to January 2022, truckers were operating safely back and forth across the U.S-Canadian border to ensure North Americans had the food and supplies they needed without having to show proof of vaccination or disclosing any other aspects of their personal medical history,” OOIDA wrote in the letter to Prime Minister Trudeau. “Since commercial drivers spend the majority of their time alone in their vehicle and outside, there is no evidence that truckers present a higher risk of spreading the virus. Because the current cross-border policy disregards the economic contributions of the trucking industry and overlooks the basic operating procedures of the profession, we urge you to immediately exempt professional truck drivers from the vaccination mandate.”
OOIDA said the mandates impede cross-border trade, noting that many drivers have elected not to operate cross-border routes under the new rules and that others have experienced excessive wait times at the border due to the new protocols.
“This has intensified existing challenges facing North American freight networks and the supply chain and has resulted in higher prices for consumers,” they wrote in letters to both administrations.
Victoria Kickham, an editor at large for Supply Chain Quarterly, started her career as a newspaper reporter in the Boston area before moving into B2B journalism. She has covered manufacturing, distribution and supply chain issues for a variety of publications in the industrial and electronics sectors, and now writes about everything from forklift batteries to omnichannel business trends for Supply Chain Quarterly's sister publication, DC Velocity.