Will Ontario’s LCV pilot project succeed?

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.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • I believe they can work well in the Windsor-Toronto-Barrie-Montreal traffic lanes. Again as you say, the trucking companies must train the drivers and have a doubles endorsement. Training and compliance enforcement with trucking companies falls short as far as I have experienced. I guess we will just have to wait and see.

  • LCV Drivers to be, have to have at least 5 years provable experience with an A-Z license.The driver then has to take the OTA’s Classroom, yard, on-road training and proficiency test. Any company who has anything wrong with their units or drivers could be pulled from hauling the LCV’s permit. The main objective is safety first. The OTA, Alberta motor association and the Quebec version (QTA) are all working together to make sure everything goes well, all are trained properly and units are in top shape. The LCV’s will not go over 90k an hour. As in Quebec will not be driven in Dec,Jan,Feb. Nor long weekends.
    It will cut down on vehicles on the road as well as GHG (green house gases). There are too many things to list that are positive, in regards to the LCV’s. Alberta has been hauling them ever since I can remember, same as Quebec. Change will be good and will give some people reason to talk when they see how long one of these LCV’s are.

  • I have been quoted saying before, “LCVs’ are a good idea in theory”. They work well in western Canada, Quebec, and in the US on some interstates. The thing that seems to be being missed is that those areas have something in common… Low traffic volume. The Ontario 400 series highways have our countries highest traffic volumes that are quite consistant for about 20 hours each day. You don’t see the LCVs’ going through New York City, Los Angeles, or Huston. Why? Traffic volumes are too high to be adding LCVs. Come on Ontario, can we put “common sence planning” before “pocket books” on the priority list, please? What cost is the Ontario government willing to pay, or make the Ontario tax payers pay, for these LCVs? More conjestion, increased highway access issues, even more road rage…. Lets stop and think about this for a while. Get some feedback from the people who will have to share the highways with the LCVs.

  • There are too many benefits to ignore just because some people will be intimidated by an LCV’s size. The general public will adapt even if it isn’t right away. Obviously, the pilot program should be limited so everyone involved can learn what limitations the LCV’s have and how to properly implement a full-scale release.