Minister-led Roundtable: The Traveller - Summary of Discussion

May 31, 2016, 3:30PM to 5:30PM | Ottawa, ON

Summary of Discussion

The meeting was conducted under Chatham House Rule: “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

Notes on Roundtable Discussion:

The focus of The Traveller Roundtable session was to hear views from participants on how Canada could ensure a high quality and efficient public passenger transportation system, as well as to discuss Canada’s ability to maintain and augment visitors and transiting travellers in light of the range of cost factors and competitive global markets.

Participants brought forward the following comments:

  1. 1. How can the transportation sector more effectively meet travellers’ needs and expectations in terms of cost, service, access, and volume, in a way that allows them to be competitive in a sustainable manner, and what is government’s role in this?

Foreign ownership:

  • Increasing foreign ownership limits could allow for new, lower-cost services to enter the market, making the cost of capital cheaper while allowing additional people to travel.
  • Some believe that, given the high cost per capita of serving low-density markets, there is limited room in the Canadian market for additional carriers. The density of Canada’s market and our cost base pose challenges for ultra-low-cost carriers that do not exist in other jurisdictions, like Europe or the US. After years of instability and many failed carriers, Canada’s transport sector is finally stabilizing around a few healthy and viable carriers.
  • There has been significant growth in new service, including to smaller markets, in recent years, thanks to Encore, Jazz and Porter.

Consumer Protection:

  • It is not clear that we have the consumer protection system we need, in terms of predictability and clarity for passengers or carriers.
  • Why should air carriers be any different from hotels or other consumer-oriented services, which do not have “bills of rights,” and allow competition to drive passenger experience? One important challenge would be how to set a standard that applies consistently across the country, given different operating conditions.
  • Having said that, while we do not necessarily need a consumer protection standard just for aviation, it is better that this be done by government than for it to occur through a piece-meal approach based on complaints to the Agency.

Accessibility:

  • Persons with disabilities are being left out of our transport system. Improving accessibility could increase air traffic by allowing more people to travel. Moreover, infrastructure investments should focus on improving accessibility, and this could include improvements to passenger aircraft.
  • Accessible services need to take into account that often persons with disabilities are accompanied by someone else. These people should not be separated for long periods during trips.
  1. 2. The CTA Review Report recommends greater transparency and accountability by transportation service and infrastructure providers to their clients. How would you propose this be implemented? Would the concept of a report card be effective? If so, what would this look like?

Business Aviation:

  • Business aviation is suffering from problems of airport access, overregulation, and a lack of service by Transport Canada Civil Aviation.

Regulation:

  • The air industry should not have “light touch” safety regulation, because it must be safe. However, regulation should be consistent and efficient.

Labour Issues:

  • There is an opportunity to look at various airport authorities as regards the precarious work arrangements that exists for low-wage workers at airports. We should ensure decent wages in the air sector, and address issues at airports that erode this, like contract flipping.
  1. 3. What approaches can the government take to optimize its policy framework for the transportation sector to ensure that users have the best connectivity and the most competitive costs for travel, including by incenting greater competition or implementing light touch regulations?

Integrated Policy Frameworks:

  • The government needs to ensure that Canada’s transportation polices are developed and implemented using an integrated approach. It is also important that transportation is regulated consistently across different jurisdictions.
  • We need to look at the entire passenger service, from home to destination, and ensure that there are smooth linkages.
  • The integration of the Canada Line in Vancouver as an intermodal link is a “success story” as regards integration. Getting from one place to the other effortlessly requires that the system be integrated.

International Air Agreements:

  • The Blue Sky policy has served Canada well, but we need to avoid implementing it “to a fault.”
  • Transiting 6th free traffic is essential to growing air traffic in Canada, given the size and distribution of our population. To attract this traffic we need to improve the efficiency of passage through our airports, as well as reducing costs.
    4. When thinking about all the ways in which Canadians (both as taxpayers and as travellers) pay for air, rail, bus, ferries (from user pay to security costs and infrastructure funding), could these costs and subsidies be allocated within or between modes more effectively? If so, how?

Air System Costs:

  • Government-imposed costs are also seen as a major challenge. Travelling in Canada is less competitive due to the high fees, taxes, and charges that travellers pay. In Canada, we are going beyond user-pay. Air is treated differently than other modes with this respect. This is preventing some US carriers from serving the Canadian market, and some are pulling out of smaller markets. The government should recognize that air travel and tourism are economic engines, and reduce the cost burden placed on the sector.
  • There was particular focus on security, and various participants expressed concerns about reduced funding available to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), and the ensuing impact on CATSA performance. It was also said that there should be agreement on service standards for CATSA.
  • Subsidization already happens in the Canadian system, but it is passengers at larger centres that subsidize those at smaller ones by way of user fees. We need to ensure that the system is affordable across country.

Airport Governance:

  • If Canada does pursue airport privatization, government will need to ensure that it create clear parameters in terms of price regulation, and that this does not become too burdensome.
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