A lot of back-slapping must have accompanied the announcement that Ontario is finally ready to start its pilot LCV project this summer. Trucking firms like Robert, Goyette and Bison have been chomping at the bit for months waiting for the green light to commence pulling turnpike doubles. The OTA has a great track record at getting what it wants and David Bradley can chalk up another victory here. But before we break out the champagne, perhaps it might be good to take a sober look at what this means.
I’m not a Luddite and I can fully understand the benefits that double 53s will provide from an economical, environmental and a public safety perspective. Double 53s have a great safety record in jurisdictions where they are utilized, largely because of the strict conditions under which they operate and the fact that only the best, most experienced drivers are chosen to pilot these units and they have to undergo training and certification to do so. Right off the bat, trucking companies who are granted the permits (about 100 are up for grabs according to the MTO) will see a 30% fuel savings in fuel and approximately 40% savings in driver wages (one driver can pull two loads but it takes a while longer as pre-trips, for one thing, have to fulfill a rigourous checklist before the doubles can leave the yard).
But I can’t be the only one to notice that the infrastructure to support long trains is not presently available on the 400 series highways. The Ontario government has dropped the ball on providing safe, accessible rest areas along the big roads: half of the service centres are closed or about to be closed for renovation (which may take years) and most of them are a shambles for parking big rigs anyway. You should have your head examined if you want to pull a set of doubles into these places at night.You have to keep the trailers straight and in front of the so-called rest areas, and those spots are among the first to get blocked in by ignorant and selfish truck drivers.
I suppose McGuinty will send out crews to put up signs and create a few lanes for LCV parking (this could be part of the stimulus package we’re still waiting to see). But clearly, as in the rest area debacle, I doubt that much will be done before the LCVs start rolling this summer. Surely the MTO realizes that drivers have to stop at least once between Toronto and Montreal and where, I might ask the two Bradleys (transportation minister Jim and the aforementioned David), will they be able to do so safely and without getting blocked in?
And let’s not forget the small “c” conservative mentality of this province. The motoring public is a powerful lobby and is already freaked out when it comes to big trucks. Groups like rail proponents CRASH and the four-wheeler oriented CAA may have an easy time playing on the fears of motorists who already think trucks are too big and dominant on the highways as is. I think McGuinty realizes this is a hot-button issue that may come back to sting him. Expect a lot of polling on the subject as the trial gets under way.
But realistically, maybe the provincial government should have gone further. Why not extend the trial to triples and add a few permits for them, as well? This would be the time to try it out. Afterall, what do the Australians know that we don’t?
Lastly, we can’t discount the fact that some driving jobs will be lost by the introduction of LCVs. This may be fine for times when there is a driver shortage, but last time I checked there was no surfeit of truck driving jobs, unless you want to drive teams–they’re still in demand. So there might be some backlash from groups like the Teamsters and OBAC who are happy with the status quo and want to protect the jobs they have now.
However, if my company was to post a notice asking for drivers for LCV training, I might just put my name down. I enjoyed the trial I had driving a set of 53s around the Robert yard in Boucherville, Que. last year. I’m one person who enjoys operating heavy equipment and it was thrilling to watch the tail of the last trailer disappear around the previous corner as I was already negotiating another turn 125 feet ahead. Now if only the province could get it together with the rest areas…
Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.
With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude. All posts by Harry Rudolfs