MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – The regulatory environment in which the Canadian trucking industry operates is rapidly changing, trucking company executives from the Indo-Canadian business community heard last night at a special information session hosted by the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA).
The town hall meeting was the first event OTA held with the Indo-Canadian Chamber of Commerce and it was preceded by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organizations, vowing to work more closely together.
“Both of our organizations want to grow our membership in the South Asian community and within the trucking industry, so tonight is the beginning of our partnership together,” said Stephen Laskowski, president of the OTA. “Both organizations are strong and will be stronger working together.”
If attendance at the first joint meeting was any indication, the partnership has potential. About 160 people registered to attend and it was a standing room only crowd that gathered Feb. 22. They were there to hear OTA officials discuss key issues facing the trucking industry, including: electronic logging devices (ELDs); the legalization of marijuana; administrative monetary penalties (AMPS) at the border; mandatory entry-level training (MELT) standards; autonomous vehicles; and overtime pay.
Geoff Wood, vice-president of operations and safety, got the discussion rolling with an overview of the US ELD mandate that goes into effect at the end of this year and a similar regulation in Canada, which will follow. All Canadian carriers operating in the US will require drivers to use ELDs by December 2017. The Canadian mandate is lagging by a couple of years, but Wood said progress is being made.
“We had a significant amount of activity this summer,” he said, noting the Canadian government issued a pre-consultation document, a precursor to the formal rulemaking process.
It also conducted a cost-benefit analysis and found the benefits of an ELD mandate outweighed the costs by a two-to-one margin.
A draft technical standard was released last summer and the next step is for the proposed regulation to be published in the Canada Gazette. While the OTA is pleased to see the legislation advanced, it still has some concerns. The association wants to see transition timeframes finalized – it’s hoping industry has a two-year window to transition, as in the US – and it wants to see existing equipment grandfathered.
The OTA also wants clarity on how leased and rental trucks will be handled under the rule – ie., who will be responsible for equipping them with ELDs?
Attendees expressed concerns about finding truck parking in an ELD world and Wood said that issue is being discussed.
“In Ontario, we think there is hope on the horizon in terms of increasing some (parking) capacity on Hwys. 11 and 17,” he said, adding the OTA is also urging the province to increase truck parking availability at EnRoute travel centers.
Laskowski dispelled one of the biggest myths surrounding ELDs: that drivers who run out of hours just shy of home will have to park. He said, just as you can do today on paper logs, an exception can be noted in the remarks section – as long as it doesn’t happen regularly.
Laskowski said he expects the Canadian law to come into effect by the end of 2018 or early 2019.
“It changes nothing in regards to hours-of-service,” he stressed. “It’s the same rules, we’re just transferring from paper to an electronic world.”
He also told carriers in the room the mandate presents some opportunities.
“This is an excellent opportunity for the industry to seize the moment,” he said. “We understand what goes on out in the business world. There’s this fear that if I don’t do it (illegally), maybe my competitor will. Electronic logs are a great equalizer and an important regulation for any business that wants to compete on business management as opposed to other means.”
Laskowski also warned carriers to plan for a 14- to 24-month implementation window, to ensure time for the training of customers, drivers and dispatchers.
Norm Sneyd, vice-president, business development with Bison Transport, said carriers and drivers don’t have to fear a loss of productivity.
“Drivers are more productive, have less stress and they’re making as much – if not more – money running electronic logs (at Bison),” he said. “I’m telling you right now, it’s the only way to go and they are as productive, if not more productive.”
Where there’s smoke…
Jonathan Blackham, policy and government affairs assistant, warned carriers that the legalization of marijuana in Canada is inevitable. What this means for trucking companies remains unclear. A recent Task Force report commissioned by the federal government put forward more than 80 recommendations and touched on the two main concerns of the trucking industry, Blackham said: impairment while driving and the use of marijuana by employees in safety-sensitive occupations, including truck driving.
“The Task Force was tough on impaired driving, but not as tough when it came to safety-sensitive positions,” Blackham said.
Carriers will need to update their drug and alcohol policies once marijuana is legalized, he warned. The OTA is conducting research to see how these policies will need to be updated and hopes to have materials available later this year.
Laskowski said trucking employers will also have to consider whether a zero-tolerance policy for marijuana use is realistic going forward. He said the industry may have trouble attracting younger drivers in the future if they’re not allowed to consume marijuana on weekends. The problem, he said, is that while there are tests available today to test impairment by alcohol, no such tests currently exist for marijuana. The legalization of marijuana is a “societal change,” Laskowski noted, which will require the trucking industry to adapt. He suggested Canadian employers should be allowed to conduct random drug and alcohol testing once marijuana is legalized, but that too is still up for debate.
AMPed up charges
A big concern for Canadian cross-border carriers is the excessive application of AMPS fines. Lak Shoan, program and education coordinator at OTA, said carriers that don’t meet pre-clearance requirements under the Canada Border Services Agency’s ACI program are facing compounding fine amounts. For example, the first violation incurs a $2,000 charge, the second within a year will net a $4,000 fine, the third an $8,000 charge, etc.
This system, Shoan contended, is unfair – especially to larger carriers that cross the border thousands of times per year.
“We view this as overly punitive,” Shoan said. “There need to be major tweaks to the system as it’s currently set up to take into consideration the volume of transactions occurring at the border.”
The OTA is recommending capping the penalty amounts so they don’t compound per offense. It prefers the US policy of turning back non-compliant trucks instead of issuing fines. It would also like to see previous fines forgotten in less than the current one-year window. While Laskowski noted fines aren’t going away, he stressed the system needs to be fairer.
“We have some carriers that have gotten $30,000 in fines in a couple of weeks and their compliance rates are at a very high level,” he said.
Heating up training standards
Wood told carriers Ontario’s MELT standards should start churning out better prepared entry-level drivers beginning July 1. The new training standards, requiring 103.5 hours of training, take effect in April so the first of these graduates should be employment-ready in July.
“There will still be training required (upon employment) but you’ll know they’ll at least be able to back up to a door and operate a vehicle,” Wood said.
The new training standards also involve an updated knowledge and road test. Wood acknowledged MELT may reduce the number of A/Z licences issued in the province, but that may be a good thing.
“It will put more rigor to the system but it’s probably something that needed to happen,” he said. “At the end of the day, the goal is to improve highway safety and put better drivers on the road.”
OTA’s vice-president of communications, Marco Beghetto, gave a brief overview of autonomous trucking, which has the potential to drastically change the industry. The association is looking at the implications of running autonomous vehicles in Canada, where unique operating conditions are faced.
“We have unique operating conditions, topography, weather,” Beghetto said. “We want to make sure that whatever is happening is happening in compliance with the real-life operations here in Canada.”
Some challenges include: how the systems will work in adverse weather; who will be liable when something goes wrong; how prepared drivers will be to intervene when circumstances require them to if they’re not focused behind the wheel all of the time; and how rules such as hours-of-service can be updated.
Overtime after 60
Blackham closed out the discussion with a warning that Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is taking a fresh look at key rules affecting federally regulated carriers, including entitlement to overtime pay after 60 hours of work.
He said the discussions go back to a federal government-commissioned report in 2004, which was the “most comprehensive review of Canada’s Labor Code in 65 years.” Recommendations were made surrounding overtime pay and other issues, including accessibility accommodations and flexible work arrangements. The discussion was dropped when the Conservative government came to power, but with a Liberal government now in charge, the report has been dusted off.
“All of a sudden we can start to see some of the issues the report talked about in 2004-2006 back in the agenda,” Blackham said.
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