Before long, you’ll likely see the first of Ontario’s long combination vehicles (LCVs) puttering down the 401. They’ll be hard to miss.
Already there’s been much debate about whether or not LCVs are viable on Ontario’s congested roadways. Certainly there’s cause for concern about the lack of rest areas along Ontario highways. You could also make a case Toronto-area passenger traffic is not capable of safely sharing the road with Twin-53s.
Driving alongside LCVs is pretty simple: they’re slow and they’re predictable. I have shared the roads with them many times while living in the prairies and never once encountered a problem. However, that was the prairies – driving in Toronto is altogether different. This hasn’t been lost on the MTO. The permit conditions for LCV operation are exhaustive – more restrictive, in fact, than anywhere else they’re allowed to operate. Participating carriers will have to be on their best behaviour if they want this program to succeed. If even one of these Twin-53s ends up on its side, cargo strewn across the 401, you can bet the program will never make it past the ‘pilot’ stage.
Despite the challenges in operating LCVs, the advantages of running them are simply too great to pass up. Ian McCubbing, Edmonton terminal manager with Bison Transport, told delegates at the recent Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminars (CFMS) that his company reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 32% and slashes costs by 40% compared to making the same deliveries using two five-axle tractor-trailers.
In Bison’s case, some of that savings is passed on to the skilled drivers who pilot these behemoths. LCV drivers with many fleets reportedly earn a 20-30% premium.
Before anyone gets too worked up over the prospect of LCVs eliminating jobs and squeezing out professional drivers, let’s consider that local drivers will still be required to pull singles to their final destinations. And let’s also remember that when the economy picks back up, we’ll once again be facing a shortage of qualified drivers and an aging workforce.
Where safety is concerned, studies suggest LCVs are safer than any other vehicle on the road, thanks to the restrictions placed on their operation coupled with the fact they’re typically driven by the very best professional drivers.
So what’s not to like? Motivated drivers have the opportunity to work for an LCV-approved carrier, complete the training course, upgrade their licence and earn a 25-30% pay increase when pulling Twin-53s. Carriers have the opportunity to reduce their operating costs, better compensate their most highly-skilled drivers and deliver greater value to their customers.
But what about the added congestion motorists will have to contend with? One study cited by McCubbing has suggested removing LCVs from LCV-approved routes in Alberta would result in an 80% increase in five-axle truck traffic. If that’s true, then perhaps LCVs can actually lessen road congestion in Ontario.
Simple math shows that two trailers and a single tractor occupy less space than two tractors each pulling a 53-ft. trailer. The big unknown will be how the motoring public adapts to sharing the roads with LCVs.
This may be the deciding factor in whether or not the Ontario pilot project succeeds. Unfortunately, it’s also the one factor that’s almost entirely outside the industry’s control.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies