THOMPSON, Man. -A robot revolution may be brewing in the trucking industry, one that could help lead to safer roads with less human monitoring from government officials.
More for less? When dealing with a government? How can that be?
Time will tell, of course, but if a couple of current pilot projects in Manitoba and Saskatchewan work out as hoped, weigh stations could be open more hours with fewer staffing hassles and less expense.
The pilot projects are creating automated weigh stations that can be operated and monitored remotely.
“The idea came from Saskatchewan,” says Tim Brown, director of motor carrier enforcement for Manitoba’s Department of Infrastructure and Transportation, referring to a station that has been operating at Macklin, near the Alberta border, for the past year or so. He says Saskatchewan’s robostation concept came to his department’s attention about a year and a half ago, while it was still under development, and that approval for Manitoba’s own experimental station near Thompson came “about year ago.”
And that’s about all Brown is willing to say about it until the station’s official opening later this spring, other than that his department hopes it will give it the more flexible use of its resources.
The Macklin scale started life as a jointly-funded project between the Alberta, Saskatchewan and federal governments and went through a gestation period of about four years. According to John Meed, program manager for Saskatchewan’s Transport Compliance Branch, they were approached initially by International Road Dynamics, a Saskatoon-based company specializing in advanced traffic control and toll management technologies, with the idea for such an automated weigh station.
Macklin was chosen as the test site, Meed says, because it was half built already. “Then we got a dedicated officer in Regina who operates the scale from there,” he says, noting that, while they’re still working on the protocols and procedures, the facility does allow them to check more trucks than before, and to follow up when necessary. “We don’t lay charges (for offending vehicles) directly,” he says. “But we pass on the information to the appropriate authorities for action.”
The weigh stations use electronic cameras and let the powers that be switch on the sign remotely, instructing trucks to report.
“They’ll have cameras to see who’s there, who’s going by,” Manitoba Trucking Association general manager Bob Dolyniuk says. “And the driver will come in and do everything he has to,” including going up to a wicket and presenting his documentation to a camera there.
And while packing all that electronics into the station and hooking it into a monitoring system might raise the initial cost of such a weigh station, the flip side, Dolyniuk says, “is what does it cost to staff a traditional weigh scale and what hours of operation are you going to have?”
Dolyniuk sees it as a way for the government to “hopefully gain some further efficiencies and still do their jobs at an appropriate level.”
The projects are being received warmly by the trucking associations in both provinces. Dolyniuk says the idea could help bring better monitoring of and compliance from the trucking industry, which he thinks is great.
“Our position has been that we want, as an industry, to see an acceptable level of on-road enforcement,” he says. “We can have all the rules and regulations that we want, but if there isn’t somebody out there to ensure that they’re being enforced and complied with it’s all for naught.”
Dolyniuk cites the trucks he says sit on either side of the Manitoba/Ontario border, waiting for the scale there to close, as an example of the need for enforcement.
“There’s a very clear message as to what’s going on,” he says, “because they don’t want to go across the scale.” If such trucks are operating overweight knowingly, he complains, then they’re also operating at an advantage over other carriers. “Somebody’s getting a deal somewhere,” he says.
Dolyniuk also points to the extra impact of such overweight vehicles on the roadways “that all of us road users are going to pay for. It creates an unlevel playing field.”
Glen Morrison, training manager for the Saskatchewan Trucking Association, says he hasn’t heard any negative comments about the automated station from the industry in his province. “I think the industry is cognizant of safety issues and would also like to take responsibility for those issues rather than have someone running around issuing tickets,” he says.
If the pilot projects prove successful, the concept could spread to other weigh stations and help boost the enforcement the MTA thinks has been lacking.
“I can remember when scales were open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Dolyniuk says, “but that’s not the case today.” He says Manitoba used to be known as the gatekeeper to the West, but “whether it’s resources or the will,” that also isn’t the case today. “Our position as an association has been that we want to see that those who aren’t playing by the laws and regulations are paying the penalties.”
He thinks such a system, coupled with new technologies aboard the trucks, could also lead to greater efficiencies for drivers, including the use of remote sensing.
“Even if the truck doesn’t have to stop,” Dolyniuk says, “wireless technologies would allow you to pull information as it goes by (the weigh station). I think if the issue is resources -as it appears to be -then from our perspective we would expect and hope that governments would make use of technologies to capture this information, including hours of service, electronically. There’s no reason why it can’t,” he says.
Dolyniuk thinks this would benefit companies who play by the rules. “Quite frankly, those who are doing the right things have nothing to worry about,” he says. “If there was the enforcement out there, the other carriers that perhaps aren’t doing what they should might find it a little tougher, and that’s why we need the enforcement.”
‘We can have all the rules and regulations that we want, but if there isn’t somebody out there to ensure that they’re being enforced and complied with, it’s all for naught.’