LRT or BRT, Rapid Transit must be Frequent Transit

My first day on Winnipeg’s Rapid Transit system back in April 2012 was memorable, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

On the northbound leg from South River Heights toward Downtown, the passengers included a young woman loudly and gleefully discussing her criminal record, as if it were something to be proud of, and a man who unceremoniously marked the occasion with a loud burp.

Later that day, I arrived at Osborne Station just in time to see the Grant Ave. bus pull away. Since that particular route ran at 24-minute intervals on a Sunday back in the old “slow transit” days, surely the arrival of Rapid Transit would mean a shorter wait, if even by just a few minutes. Or so I thought.

When I looked up at the indicator board, that was when I got a rude shock: since the bus I had just missed was slightly ahead of schedule, the next bus to my destination would be arriving . . . in half an hour!

And the next bus after that, another 29 minutes later.

The reality sunk in that the introduction of Rapid Transit would mean a service reduction, and that I might as well walk four kilometres home — thankfully, an effortless and relaxing experience in fine weather — because it would scarcely take any longer and be vastly more interesting than hanging around Osborne Station for half an hour.

That strange first day of Winnipeg’s Rapid Transit system seemed to underline the point that, even as they built the system, the city’s administrators didn’t “get” the concept of rapid transit — that you should be able to navigate the city without a timetable and without any maps, aside from those posted at the stops themselves, much as one can do in European cities.

Indeed, the people whom we hired with our ballots to oversee the city’s affairs — I’d be curious to know how many have ever used a European public transportation system, or have even been across either the Atlantic or the Pacific — still might not get it as illustrated by a new City Hall squabble over whether Rapid Transit should consist of buses or railcars.

Those who follow this debate have their own opinions. Some favour using buses because of lower construction and start-up costs; others favour the rail option because of lower per-passenger-trip costs and, as expressed by rail proponent Coun. Russ Wyatt, a higher glamour factor.

But nobody is talking about the all-important matter of frequency. This in a city where the major traffic arteries running past some of the city’s largest shopping centres still enjoy the same twice-an-hour Sunday service they enjoyed 30 years ago when the malls were closed on what is now a busy shopping day.

If you want to encourage people to use public transport as an alternative to the congestion and wear-and-tear on the roads caused by North America’s high rate of private automobile use, frequency matters, as explained (starting from PDF page 53) by Graham Currie and Alexa Delbosc of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia:

The results collectively support the case for high service levels [i.e., more buses/trains/streetcars per day, and longer hours of service at a given stop] as a driver of ridership regardless of the transit mode [i.e., light rail, bus rapid transit or streetcar] adopted . . . This is particularly interesting in this context where boardings per vehicle kilometer was used as the outcome variable, as BVK controls for service level. This suggests that routes with higher service levels are more efficient and attract more ridership than low-service routes, all other things being equal.

Thus, it is time to start talking about service levels, not just along Winnipeg’s existing and proposed rapid transit lines, but city-wide, with the goal of designing a transit system where, as in Europe, one can just “show up and go” with a minimum of advance planning. Rapid transit corridors would play a helpful role here, naturally, as might better deployment of Transit’s existing fleet. (Does Route 95 really need a nine-minute layover at each end of its 21-minute route? Why not just a five-minute layover, and squeeze in a couple of extra trips per bus, using existing resources?)

If service levels don’t become part of the discussion this year — an election year, no less — we could end up with a Rapid Transit system designed as if by image-conscious politicians who have no intention of ever using the system; and finding out the hard (and expensive) way that a Rapid Transit-branded train that runs every half-hour is as much a bad joke on Winnipeggers as a bus that does the same thing.

Which airline is most likely to get you there on time?

Many people from around the world only became familiar with FlightRadar24.com after the Mar. 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, when many turned to the flight tracking site to trace the final route taken by the missing Boeing 777.

FlightRadar24 is, not surprisingly, a goldmine for aviation buffs, given features that include the ability to see what’s passing overhead right now and to even put yourself in the Captain’s seat. (Simply click on a flight, then on the 3D button on the left hand side.)

It also offers plenty of information for number-crunchers, such as data on the on-time performance of individual aircraft.

Normally, an airline’s on-time record is measured in simple percentage terms: the percentage of flights that arrived within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time. But that doesn’t tell you much about your chances of making a tight schedule work flawlessly.

So, I came up with something a bit different. I picked, at random, 31 individual airliners that fly under the colours of six airlines that serve Winnipeg: Air Canada, Air Transat, Delta, Sunwing, United and WestJet, including both mainline and connector services.

I then copied as much arrival and departure information as the site collected — a total of 897 take-offs and landings between Mar. 29 and April 6 — and pasted it into a spreadsheet. I then set out to estimate the normal “arrival window” you can expect to have if you were to fly any of the six airlines — the gap between the earliest 10 percent and latest 10 percent of arrivals, to give you an idea of what passes for normal at each airline.

If getting there on time is crucial — such as for an appointment or wedding, or to catch a connecting flight or a cruise ship — then Delta appears to be your safest bet, as the middle 80 percent of its flights arrived between 20 minutes early and just 15 minutes late. Among Canadian carriers, Air Canada bested WestJet by 14 minutes, but holiday carrier Air Transat seemed to do slightly better than both.

Airline on-time performance

Airlines that might best be avoided if getting there on-time is a concern include United, which had both some of the earliest but also the latest arriving flights, and Sunwing, which arrived anywhere from 21 minutes early to more than an hour and a half late on the middle 80 percent of its flights.

Sunwing’s on-time performance is probably less of a concern due to it being a charter airline and not a full-service network carrier. United’s scheduling problems are more likely to derail travel plans given that the carrier also tends to aggressively sell tight connections of less than 60 minutes at sprawling, congested hubs such as Newark Liberty and Chicago O’Hare. (That these airports are prone to aerial traffic jams and bad weather could explain United’s uneven performance.)

But if you have no crucial meetings to attend or connections to make, then it will probably suffice just to know the typical or “median” performance of each airline. In this case, all of the airlines come out smelling of roses: Delta was the most cautious scheduler, with the typical flight arriving nine minutes early, while Sunwing was the most optimistic scheduler, with the typical flight arriving six minutes late.

Based on:

224 Air Canada-branded flights operated by Embraer 190s C-FHKI and C-FHNY, Airbus A320 C-FKCR, Jazz Dash 8-300 C-GABP,  Dash 8-400 C-GGFP, Canadair RJ-700 C-GPJZ and Boeing 767 C-GSCA.

227 Delta-branded flights operated by Boeing 737s N3730B and N3750D, Embraer 170s N604CZ and N638CZ, CRJ-200 N8891A, and MD-88s N963DL and N982DL.

52 Air Transat flights operated by Airbus A330s C-GKTS, C-GTSO and C-GTSR.

133 United-branded flights operated by Boeing 737s N14735 and N36444, Embraer 145s N16147 and N16151, Airbus A320 N430UA, and CRJ-700 N705SK.

87 Sunwing flights operated by Boeing 737s C-FGVK, C-FTDW and G-FDZY.

174 WestJet and Encore flights operated by Dash 8 C-FHEN and Boeing 737s C-FRWA, C-FWCN, C-FXWJ and C-GLWS.

Note: Since FlightRadar24 records landing times, an average taxi time of five minutes was used to estimate gate arrival time.

When all else fails, just call it “new”

Many Winnipeggers have a pattern to their radio listenership. They wake up in the morning to an alarm clock radio normally permanently set to one preferred station, and drive around town listening to one or two preferred stations. Some people might listen to a single station for extended periods during the day at work.

Few will ever have spent a significant amount of time listening to 100.7 FM in Winnipeg, known as Jewel 101 in its latest incarnation. The station, which currently plays a wide-ranging format ranging from Barry Manilow to Rihanna — billed as “light and refreshing” — has experimented with nostalgia, country and rock formats over the years in an unsuccessful attempt to rise above its lowly place in the Winnipeg radio ratings.

How bad are things at Jewel 101? In the Fall 2013 Winnipeg radio ratings, 100.7 FM (officially known as CFJL-FM) reached just 19,500 listeners in Winnipeg and the surrounding region. This placed them second-last among the 15 stations that subscribe to the BBM rating service in terms of the number of ears reached. Of the fifteen, only French-language station CKSB reached fewer people — but they’re not dependent on advertisers for their survival.

Jewel 101′s problems are not unique. The station now known as Virgin Radio 103.1 spent about a decade casting about with different brand names and formats between the late ’80s and late ’90s before achieving success with the hit-music oriented Hot 103.

Current stations 99.1 Fresh FM and TSN Radio 1290 also did their fair share of experimenting with different formats over the years, none of which turned out to be hits.

Normally, a station in Jewel’s position would consider strengthening its commuter-oriented morning and late afternoon offerings. Jewel’s morning show, hosted by Winnipeg radio veteran Don Percy, only gets fleeting promotion on the station’s web site; its afternoon drive-time show hosted by Russ Tyson, another radio veteran, appears to get no top-page promotion at all.

Or it might review its pickles-and-ice-cream mix of Manilow and Rihanna, which might not be quite what the leave-it-on-in-the-background-all-day audience is looking for.

Yet Jewel 101 is trying something completely different. In a recent filing with the CRTC, Canada’s broadcast regulator, Jewel’s owners see the station’s 100.7 FM frequency as being somewhat jinxed. As their supplementary brief puts it:

Since the licence was initially granted in 2002, the specialty format on 100.7 has failed to generate audience interest. Consequently, the frequency itself has become stigmatized as “a station no one listens to”.

Therefore, the station’s owner, Dufferin Communications Inc., proposes that the answer to its problems might be found in sliding one FM channel over to the supposedly stigma-free 100.5 FM:

 

. . . While The Jewel format is fresh and new in the Winnipeg market, is enjoyed by those who tune it in, and is successful in other markets where it is played, it can not escape the stigma that comes with the frequency after so much time at the bottom of the ratings. Listeners have told our marketing department the station is a “loser”, and consequently, potential advertisers see the station as perpetually “last in the market” to our financial detriment. It is our belief that a change in frequency to 100.5 MHz will help Dufferin overcome and shed some of the negative baggage associated with the 100.7 frequency.

. . . We also believe that migrating 100.7 to 100.5 is the next logical step which will both give Dufferin an opportunity to capitalize on an “all new” Winnipeg Jewel, and improve the station’s technical parameters.

The last sentence refers to the fact that Jewel proposes increasing its transmitting power from 80,000 watts to 100,000 watts, which would give the station a slightly better chance of reception in office buildings and other signal-challenging environments.

It’s difficult to understand how 100.7 FM could be any more jinxed than was 103.1 FM, for example, during that station’s decade in the wilderness during the ’90s; or 1290 AM was when it tried its hand at everything from talk radio to World War II-era music, to reviving the CFRW glory days of the ’70s and ’80s before finally settling on a reasonably well-regarded sports format.

Likely, Jewel’s core problem is that its something-for-everyone format has long been and still is too broad for anything more than a relatively small number of listeners to bother tuning their alarm clock or car radios to; and that its drive-time shows are all but invisible even to those who might be fans of their veteran hosts.

But if they want to try moving their station just a nudge to the left on the FM dial and calling it “new” to see if that solves their problems instead, then good luck to them.

London’s outrageous housing prices: An opportunity to sell emigration?

Canada’s cities are growing their populations, and that includes Winnipeg. But that growth is increasingly reliant not on Canadians moving around their own country, but on most cities’ ability to bring in immigrants from the rest of the world.

That was the point made by a recent Statistics Canada release, which observed that two-thirds of the population growth in Canada’s metropolitan areas in 2012-13 was due to immigration.

Here in metro Winnipeg, we welcomed 10,944 immigrants in 2012-13, while losing just 1,179 emigrants who left here to live in other countries. This is very much the opposite of the interprovincial migration numbers, where Winnipeg has been consistently losing about 2,000 to 3,000 people more to other provinces than we have been taking in during recent years.

We are hardly alone in that regard: the only Canadian metropolitan areas that pulled in more interprovincial migrants than they lost in 2012-13 were the energy-driven boom towns of Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton, and the relatively balmy retirement towns of Kelowna and Victoria. (Increasingly unaffordable Vancouver, once a big gainer from domestic migration, is seeing an accelerating exodus.)

And while metro Winnipeg gains on the whole from people moving in from other parts of Manitoba — a net gain of 689 in 2012-13 — this gain is tiny compared to the population gains we get from international migration.

If you’re intent on selling your city as a place worth moving to, it’s important to remember of course that domestic and international migrants are two very different markets. Domestic migration is largely driven by jobs, lifestyle, climate and family reasons and tends to favour boomtowns and milder climates. International migration is largely driven by an escape from poverty or war, and better economic prospects.

While many of the new Winnipeggers welcomed from abroad over the past 20 years have come from relatively poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, you might have also noticed more newcomers from relatively well-off countries such as the United Kingdom.

Some of those British newcomers, no doubt, would gladly relate the pressures arising from the high cost of living in the U.K. — particularly in Greater London — and how those costs compare to relatively inexpensive Winnipeg.

For example, to get a sense of how severe the affordable housing shortage has become in London, consider this posting on Zoopla, a British real estate site, for a room to rent in north London, about three miles from the financial district. For £390 per month ($720 Cdn.) or £90 per week ($166), you can rent this decidedly spartan-looking room, just steps away from a British Rail station:

For £390 per month, one of these beds can be yours. Your roommate gets the other one for £390 more. (Click for source.)

For £390 per month, one of these beds can be yours. Your roommate gets the other one for £390 more. (Click for source.)

Except that you don’t get the room to yourself. Note the fine print — the bolding is mine — which reads:

Ideal Move are delighted to present this single bed in double room share for 90.00 per week all inclusive. The double room is available at 180.00 per week or 90.00 per bed space with the room. The flat is shared with another 2 rooms and communal kitchen. Fully furnished, broadband internet, kitchen with all utensils.

In other words, bring a friend whom you don’t mind losing all privacy to, or face the indignity of having to share not just your home but even your sleeping quarters with a total stranger. And if the other two rooms each have two residents, get ready to share the rest of the home — likely including the washroom facilities that probably aren’t part of the room you’re renting — with the other four residents.

If you want the privacy of your own place, however, you might want to consider commuting into London — by jet.

That is exactly what one man has figured he could do. And, no, he is not a millionaire.

Last October, the Daily Mail newspaper reported, in an awkwardly worded report, that Sam Cookney, a social media manager, calculated that he could, with the ability to work from home one day a week, save £339 ($625 Cdn.) per month by moving from London’s West Hampstead area to Les Corts, a comfortable area in Barcelona, Spain — but continuing to work in London.

According to the British newspaper, it costs the equivalent of $2,780 Cdn. to rent a one-bedroom apartment — called a flat in the U.K. — in West Hampstead. Council taxes come to the equivalent of $140 Cdn. per month, and public transport to and from central London comes to $215 Cdn.

For the equivalent of $1,070 Cdn. per month, Cookney would be able to rent an apartment in Barcelona; commute to London on Ryanair, a discount airline, for $54 Cdn. round-trip — it helps if you don’t have baggage and know how to avoid Ryanair’s notorious fees — and commute to and from the airports for $35 Cdn. daily.

Sources other than the Daily Mail report that Cookney hasn’t actually moved to Barcelona — he just did a calculation as a way of illustrating the high cost of living in London.  (There are reports, however, of super-commuters splitting their weeks between London and Scotland.)

This would be a grueling commute, though. There are two early morning nonstops from Barcelona to London that arrive shortly after 8 a.m. London time; but even a relatively early 6:10 p.m. departure from London wouldn’t arrive in Barcelona until after 9 p.m. local time, leaving impossibly little time for a full night’s sleep.

Yet if London’s affordable housing crisis is so severe that commuting in from a foreign country seems like an attractive option, then it might be worthwhile for Winnipeg and other Canadian cities looking to grow their population base to market themselves as more affordable places to live.

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment (if you could find one) in Winnipeg in April 2012, for example, was $697 per month (£378) according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation — a bit cheaper than that shared bedroom in north London, and much more private. A city-wide transit pass currently costs $84.70 per month (£46), and the median commuting distance in Winnipeg is a short six kilometres or four miles.

There are trade-offs, of course. There is the shock of Winnipeg’s harsh winters to overcome, and the fact that Winnipeg (and every other Canadian city) is a huge step down from London in terms of fun and excitement. Samuel Johnson’s famous saying, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” is after all still very much the truth.

Yet, you never know. Some might consider it a worthwhile trade-off.

* – Related: A BBC report on extreme commuting.

Correction, Mar. 6: Apparently Cookney hasn’t actually moved to Barcelona; he has simply estimated the costs of commuting from Spain.


Winnipeg is a city where any sort of mention in the international media is a big deal, so Winnipeg readers of this blog might be interested to know that the city is getting a bit of publicity in France thanks to a new novel by writer Frédéric Chouraki.

Titled Un aller pour Winnipeg (“A trip to Winnipeg”), Chouraki’s 230-page fiction tells of a young man with an uncertain future who leaves Paris, arrives in Canada, and travels west by train for this mysterious place in the country’s west, called Winnipeg, which has always fascinated him. (Notably, the book’s official summary mistakenly refers to Winnipeg as “a province in western Canada”.)

According to my own rudimentary understanding of spoken French, the radio interview available through the site above suggests that the protagonist, known as Freddy Boy, meets up with a variety of fellow travellers who “all share the fantasy of Winnipeg”: a gay hockey team called the Maple Leafs (! — Is Chouraki taking a jab at Toronto? Or at Rob Ford?), an Italian actress, a retired waitress from Niagara Falls, and an “excessively sexual and large-breasted” blues singer. Along the way, Freddy finds himself in “aphrodisiac encounters in saucy circumstances”.

In the bleakness of the Winnipeg winter, this might sound very much like a fantasy indeed. But it might just send a few French readers to Google Maps to look up the location of this mysterious back-of-beyond place, and might even inspire a tourist or two to replicate Freddy Boy’s Canadian adventure.

Controversial choices loom as TV border skirmish escalates

“Why can’t we see the Super Bowl ads?” That’s the big question that arises in Canada early each year, as NFL fans on this side of the border come to terms with the fact that they won’t be able to see the spectacular (and spectacularly expensive) ads that air during the biggest U.S. sporting event of the year.

That question about whose ads we get to see lies at the heart of an escalating border skirmish that could bring the future of easy Canadian access to U.S. network television into question.

As the CRTC, the Canadian broadcasting regulator, points out on its web site, it comes down to a matter of programming rights.

Forty years ago, Canadian broadcasters were incensed with the actions of several U.S. TV stations that had their transmitters south of the border, and purchased their programming rights there, but had studios and sales staff in Canada to produce and sell ads during programs for which a Canadian station had supposedly purchased the exclusive local rights.

Eventually, the CRTC announced a new policy called “simultaneous substitution”, or “sim-sub”, which would require cable companies to carry the Canadian signal on both channels if the same program aired on both a Canadian and American station simultaneously.

The Canadian stations were delighted with the results, one 2009 study estimating that “sim-subbing” added about 40 percent to a Canadian station’s audience when airing a U.S.-made program in prime time. It also sent the most aggressive “border pirates” reeling: the Texas-based owner of KCND, an ABC affiliate with its transmitter in North Dakota but studios and sales offices in Winnipeg, quickly sold the station to Canadian investors in 1975, who relaunched the station on this side of the border as CKND (now Global Winnipeg). KVOS, a CBS affiliate serving Vancouver from a transmitter in Washington State, survived; but eventually had to leave CBS and become an independent station to get around the sim-sub problem, and is now little more than a repeater for a Seattle station.

The regulators at the CRTC, who have an “arm’s length” relationship with the politicians but must occasionally show some sign of paying attention to public opinion nevertheless, have made noises recently about possibly getting rid of the sim-sub rules so that Canadians will be able to see the Super Bowl ads.*

In a consultation exercise launched this week, the CRTC asked Canadians how they would feel about U.S. stations being “offered in an optional package and local stations would receive money from the additional subscriber fees to cover the lost advertising revenue” as an alternative to sim-subbing.

In addition to placating Super Bowl viewers, this idea could deal with one aspect of a looming Canada-U.S. trade dispute.

In a Feb. 14 letter to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, a coalition of U.S. TV stations urged the American government to confront Canada over “failure to provide adequate and effective protection for the intellectual property rights (IPR) of American television stations redistributed in Canada” and “Canada’s ongoing denial of fair and equitable market treatment that causes harm and damage to American television stations owners and employees”.

Part of the coalition’s letter included an insistence that Canadian cable and satellite operators cease the “unauthorized modification” of U.S. signals caused by sim-subbing, the practice that causes Canadian viewers to see lacklustre Canadian ads during the Super Bowl.

Bell Media, the owner of CTV, Canada’s largest private TV network, as well as many cable channels, takes a different view. Not only do they want sim-subbing to continue, they want to expand it.

In fact, a Bell Media spokesperson even suggested a few months ago that U.S. networks be given the boot completely from Canadian cable and satellite systems:

BCE Inc., Canada’s largest broadcaster, would support the establishment of broadcasting rules similar to those of the United Kingdom, where American channels cannot be aired and broadcasters can license and air shows exclusively, the company said.

“Canada is the only country in the world where American channels are freely carried by cable and satellite distributors, dramatically impacting the value of the exclusive programming rights Canadian broadcasters purchase. Allowing U.S. networks freely into Canada causes massive market disruption. We would be supportive of such a system as seen in the U.K.,” Scott Henderson, a spokesman for BCE division Bell Media, said in an emailed response to questions.

[ . . . ]

Hendersen [sic] said Bell Media would also support a system of “non-simultaneous substitution,” which would expand the existing regime so that the signal is replaced even when the shows are played at different times. No matter when it airs, distributors would be required to substitute the U.S. broadcast signal with the Canadian broadcaster’s signal, including its advertising, where the Canadian broadcaster has the Canadian rights to the program.

Other broadcasting groups shied away from Bell’s aggressive ideas: a Rogers spokesperson was non-committal; a Telus spokesperson was firmer, suggesting that Bell’s position “doesn’t seem realistic”.

Sometime in 2014, the CRTC will begin consulting with the Canadian broadcasting industry on the future of sim-subbing. Regardless of whether they roll back or expand the practice, they will face a backlash from either broadcasters who feel that their business model is being undermined or from a public that won’t like the idea of paying for what they’ve long received at no extra (visible) charge.

To be making that decision while a Canada-U.S. trade war over property rights rolls on in the background, with the possibility that Canadian cable and satellite operators might have to enter into contentious negotiations with U.S. stations to continue using their signals, suggests that the CRTC will be feeling the heat indeed.

* – That is not the only way in which the CRTC has found itself aggravated over the sim-sub policy. After reading a Twitter exchange in which a Rogers Communications representative faulted the CRTC for the inability of Canadian viewers to see U.S. commercials during the NFL playoffs, a “dismayed” CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais fired off a tart letter reminding Rogers that substitution is only done at the broadcaster’s request; suggesting that broadcasters educate the public about a policy that was created on their suggestion “rather than simply passing blame onto the CRTC”; and ordering Rogers to “provide a report outlining the training your customer service representatives receive on this issue”.

Tight U.S. border gives Canada a boost up as global crossroads

Pity the poor business traveler who needs to get from London to Monterrey, one of Mexico’s most important commercial centres after Mexico City itself. Virtually every itinerary produced by a flight search engine requires connecting via the United States.

The same rule normally applies if you’re trying to get from Frankfurt to Guadalajara, or from Hong Kong to Mexico City — unless you fly via Europe, which is the long way around the world.

That is bad news for many travelers these days. Not only has U.S. Customs and Border Protection become more demanding of travelers since 9/11, the agency often being accused of treating even vacationers as potential terrorists. It has also cut back on airport staffing due to budget cuts, resulting in complaints of missed connections and of passengers needing two to four hours just to get out of the airport after their flight arrives, even if they have nothing to declare and everything else goes smoothly.

Unlike many global air hubs, U.S. airports generally do not have international transit facilities that exempt passengers merely passing through the country from having to go through full Customs and Immigration checks. Instead, these passengers must be fully screened and be formally admitted to the United States before immediately leaving again.

If an airline offered a bypass that allowed travelers to get from Latin America to Europe or Asia — or vice-versa — without having to go through all this hassle, it could get away with charging a premium, and profiting nicely from it.

The same goes for the airports and the local border authorities, who would benefit from collecting the associated fees added on to the ticket.

Canada could very well become the main beneficiary of America’s border problems. Our major airports have already been redesigned with express lanes to make sure that connecting passengers make their flights; and facilities that allow passengers flying from Europe or Asia to the U.S. via Canada to go directly from their flight into a U.S. Customs and Border Protection screening facility right in the airport, without having to go through Canadian border formalities.

These passengers can then disembark at their U.S. destination already having been cleared to enter the U.S., and be out of the airport and on their way into town within minutes instead of hours.

Airports such as Toronto and Montreal have also set up dedicated international gates, which could be the first step to allowing passengers just passing through Canada between Latin America and Europe or Asia to do so without needing to have their passport stamped or to fill out a declaration form.

If you need to get between Mexico and the rest of the world, Canada is often right along the way. (Source: Great Circle Mapper -- gcmap.com)

If you need to get between Mexico and the rest of the world, Canada is often right along the way. (Source: Great Circle Mapper — gcmap.com)

Further signs that Canada might be aiming to position itself strategically as a crossroads between Europe, Asia and the Americas come in a late-breaking development, reported on by the National Post:

Trade Minister Ed Fast, who is also travelling on Harper’s plane, has been authorized by the federal cabinet to sign an expanded airline access agreement with Mexico, The Canadian Press has learned.

That agreement would allow Mexican airlines greater access to greater cities, and Canadians more direct flights to Mexico.

The expanded air access would likely be a precursor to the Conservative government eventually lifting the controversial visa it slapped on Mexican travellers in 2009 to combat an increase of bogus asylum seekers.

Currently, any airline wishing to open up new regularly scheduled routes between Canada and Mexico must already be authorized to do so under a bilateral agreement that dates back to the Sixties, or make arrangements to have that agreement modified.

Yet this new agreement just announced is not just about linking Canada with Mexico. Canada is very close to the direct line path between Mexico and both Europe and Asia. A Monterrey-London journey via Toronto, for example, barely adds a mile to the total journey; a Monterrey-Hong Kong journey via Vancouver is a fraction of a percent longer than the straight line distance.

Loosening up those restrictions could establish Canada as the best transfer point between Latin America and the vitally important European and Asian markets. That not only has the potential to be good for Canada’s airlines and airports; it could also be good for the Canadian economy as well by positioning ourselves as a logical place to do business if you need fairly easy access to Europe, Asia, Latin America or the United States.

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