AMTA, enforcement officers honour drivers with free lunch
November 1, 2010
BALZAC, Alta. - Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch? There was certainly a free lunch happening on a miserably rainy and cold September day at the Balzac scale just north of Calgary. It was...
BALZAC, Alta. –Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? There was certainly a free lunch happening on a miserably rainy and cold September day at the Balzac scale just north of Calgary. It was a day that saw truckers being red-lighted into the scale located just off the northbound lanes -not to be judged this time, but to be rewarded instead with a free barbecue courtesy of the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) and assorted friends.
The event was the second such lunch to be organized by the AMTA in 2010, following on the success of one near Leduc at the end of June. To the AMTA, it’s a way to give a little bit back in honour of the men and women who toil the province’s highways day in and day out.
“It’s not often we get to say thank-you to these ladies and gentlemen who operate these big rigs up and down our roads,” said the AMTA’s Lane Kranenburg who, when he isn’t emceeing events such as the Balzac lunch is the director of the AMTA’s Partners in Compliance program. Kranenburg spent much of the session regaling attendees from a Calgary Stampede events trailer, hollering out the names of drivers and companies as they passed by, adding a bit of hoopla to the proceedings.
“We do enough enforcement but we don’t do enough recognition, saying ‘these are the good guys’,” he said. “This is a small way of us saying ‘thank-you’.”
Speaking of enforcement, the event was not only conceived of as a free lunch for drivers; it was also an opportunity to meet, in a kind of social setting, some of the people with whom drivers’ normal interactions might not be as pleasant: police and commercial vehicle enforcement officers.
“It’s great having (the enforcement side) here to talk to the drivers,” Kranenburg said, “so the drivers are more at ease when they go by these scales, rather than always thinking they’re the bad guys. They’re not: they’re out there to keep our road safe.”
This interaction between different sides of the transportation coin was gravy, however, over and above the original concept of paying tribute to the truckers.
“When you think about it,” Kranenburg said, “these units carry everything we use. Everything we eat, everything we wear, has been on a truck at one time or another and people don’t recognize that. These ladies and gentlemen do one of the toughest jobs out there and they are indeed professionals and they keep our highways safe.”
Also on display for the event were the Lawson Roll-Over Simulator (billed as the first of its type in Canada) and the AMTA’s “No-Zone trailer,” the latter of which serves as a reminder to drivers and, especially, the general public about where the blind spots are around a tractor-trailer unit, the areas from which four-wheelers should stay away.
Getting truckers to attend the lunch was partly a matter of shooting fish in a barrel, since the hosts used the warning lights on Hwy. 2 to flag down trucks -basically forcing them off the highway and in to the scale. Kranenburg admits that was a tad freaky for some drivers, who were surprised at being hauled in there and then.
“They start looking for their paperwork,” he said, with a chuckle, “but we’re not looking for that today. We’re pulling them in at random.”
The AMTA did some promotion for the event, advertising at the scale and with member companies but, noting the number of drivers who expressed surprise at being pulled in, Kranenburg complained “drivers are never kept in the loop. Companies do not concentrate on the most important part of their operation, and that’s the guy behind the wheel. None of us would have a job without these professionals.”
Being hauled in didn’t mean the drivers were forced to shut down their rigs to partake of the burgers and other fare being offered, though.
“If they’re in a hurry we just wave them through,” Kranenburg said. “We don’t want to hold them up if they’re on a tight schedule -but a lot of them are stopping.”
One of the “victims” of their random stopping of trucks was hauling pigs, Kranenburg noted, laughing. “We wish we hadn’t stopped him,” he said.
Kranenburg, who had a previous life as a fleet owner, is big on treating drivers with respect. “Those fellows earn their money,” he said. “If you treat them well and pay them what they deserve they’ll make you nothing but money. But people forget that.”
The PIC director says that fact of transportation life -that many owners take their drivers for granted -is a shame, because those are the companies that will be in trouble in the not-too-distant future.
“There’s a severe shortage of good drivers just around the corner,” he said. “The average age of a driver right now is in the late 50s. So look at another five years max and you’ll see a lot of them retiring and that’s going to leave a void.”
The point he’s stressing is that the qualified drivers remaining will be more inclined to work for companies that treat them right.
As wet and cold as the free lunch day may have been, it also appears to have been a success. According to Bud Rice, the AMTA’s manager of compliance and regulatory affairs, they cooked up about 350 lunches that day.
“It was down a bit from last time,” he admitted, “but the weather was definitely a factor.”
Rice said the reaction to the gesture was really good.
“Some of the guys that went through said it was a great idea and we should do it more, and we’re going to,” he said, noting the AMTA is going to add another date next year at Coutts, near the border crossing between Alberta and Montana.
Rice, like Kranenburg, also stressed the point that the lunch was a fun way for drivers to get to know the enforcement side, to put human faces to them, and maybe even learn something.
“The drivers get to ask questions of the enforcement guys,” he said, “and they’ll walk out of there with first-hand information as well as having made a friend.”
As for the compliance and enforcement folk who turned up, Rice said it was also a good experience for them.
“The CVSA guys love it,” he said. “They come from all different scale areas, as far away as Whitecourt and Lethbridge, and even guys from B.C. came out to be part of it.”