TORONTO, Ont. — US and Canadian trucking companies have much in common, including their growing frustration over government interference in their businesses, with seemingly little thought given to the full implications of their decisions.
That was evidenced during a panel discussion on The Impact of Rules and Legislations on Fleet Operating Costs, hosted by Performance Innovation Transport at its second annual conference. Providing a fleet perspective on the subject were Mike Kelley, vice-president, YRC Freight and Mark Irwin, director of maintenance, eastern region, Bison Transport. Among their shared frustrations was the idea that government does not hesitate to foist costly regulations on the industry, while it continues to prohibit the use of safe and proven systems such as larger pup trailers in the US and 6×2 axle configurations in Canada.
YRC’s Kelley said the LTL trucking industry in the US would like to move from 28-ft. pup trailers to 33-footers, which would provide an 18% increase in capacity.
“The last time we’ve had any significant productivity increase was in 1982,” he complained. “We can save four billion tonnes of CO2 annually. But this will be anything but an engineering decision, it’s going to be a political decision and we’re in for a dogfight.”
Closer to home, Irwin would like to see the latest generation 6×2 axles allowed in Canada, pointing to weight savings of several hundred pounds.
“We need to get into this,” Irwin said. “This is something where we’re seeing significant fuel savings. It has been tested by PIT and we have confidence in PIT and what they do. The restrictions or the limitations of operating in Ontario as a result of this actually impacts our ability to perform business in Ontario.”
He noted US carriers are coming into Canada using 6x2s and gaining a competitive advantage and that some Canadian fleets are also using the system, despite it being illegal. Geoff Wood, vice-president of operations and safety with the Ontario Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance warned they do so at their own peril.
“If you have technology that is not allowed and doesn’t fit within the provincial framework and something happens, you might have a problem on your hands legally and civilly,” he suggested. He noted the associations are discussing the issues related to 6x2s with government, but added a formal position has not yet been taken.
While governments in both countries seem bound on limiting productivity in some ways, they are also not afraid to introduce new legislation that brings tremendous cost to the industry, Kelley pointed out, citing electronic logging devices as a timely example.
“We’ll have two years to put ELDs in 8,000 trucks. This is ironic, because we’ve been talking about this since 1997 and we’ll have a two-year implementation window and we can’t act on it now because we don’t know what the standards will be,” Kelley said.
He is also worried about talk a Pigovian tax could be applied to the trucking industry as punishment for the carbon emissions it produces. Kelley would prefer to see a modest increase in fuel taxes, since only 2-4% of the money collected in this manner goes towards administrative costs. A Pigovian tax, which is an extreme tax intended to change behaviour, won’t work in trucking, because the deliveries must still be made, Kelley pointed out.
He would prefer the government shift its attention to helping the industry, through the elimination of barriers, including traffic congestion. He cited a stat that suggested traffic congestion at freight chokepoints in the US each year produce an outcome equivalent to 51,000 trucks and drivers sitting idle for an entire year.
“We should be able to align industry, environmentalists and the Administration to get a long-term comprehensive plan to address freight chokepoints,” he said.
Kelley also had concerns with how the latest emissions standards for heavy trucks have been implemented, driving up costs of new trucks by 45% while at the same time, cars have increased in price just 15%. While Kelley said he agrees with the importance of cleaning the air, the new standards have resulted in less reliable equipment that has been especially troubling in an LTL environment with ever-tightening delivery windows.
“The nation’s commerce is on wheels,” he said. “We have some of the biggest retailers in North America that we serve now and if we are late by three hours, they don’t have product on their shelves and they get really upset with us and then they don’t pay us.”
Bison’s Irwin agreed that customer expectations are constantly rising and that regulations that curtail productivity are a hindrance. He’d like to see Ontario’s long combination vehicle (LCV) program expanded more rapidly, as one example.
The company has been running LCVs for 11 years and they now account for 26% of all its miles travelled, or 2.8 million miles per month. They average about 5.5 mpg compared to the single-trailer fleet’s average of 6.5 mpg, but looked at another way, they nearly double trailer productivity to 11 mpg per trailer.
“That’s pretty efficient and that’s the world we want to live in,” Irwin said.
He also has an issue with roadside enforcement being overly aggressive when inspecting LCV equipment. An ABS light out results in the loss of a permit for three to four months, even though the braking system is still functional.
Irwin would like to see government trust the research done by organizations such as PIT and the OEMs and more quickly approve new technologies that can improve freight efficiency. He suggested conducting “rapid testing” on promising new technologies so that they can be put into service more quickly.
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