EDMONTON, Alta. – Truckers in Edmonton may have to keep a closer eye over their shoulders if a plan being considered by city hall goes into effect in the near future. That’s because the city is looking at hiring more enforcement officers to help combat such trucking sins as taking shortcuts through neighbourhoods, emitting excess noise and pollution, and damaging roads via heavy or overweight vehicles and lost unsecured loads.
This microscope onto the trucking world was proposed first in late 2013 by now-retired Edmonton Councillor Linda Sloan, who requested the city look at finding potential solutions to the perceived problems outlined above. The city subsequently came back with a report offering solutions ranging from a relatively cost-free redeployment of existing enforcement assets to a multi-hundred thousand dollar expansion of enforcement capabilities to increase the number of truck inspections from approximately 200 per year to about 3,000. A third option recommended that the city spend $50,000 on an education campaign aimed at truckers.
According to Edmonton Ward 9 Councillor Bryan Anderson, the report spurred by Sloan’s suggestion claimed that $10 million a year could be saved on road wear and tear by ensuring truckers follow the rules of the road and don’t take shortcuts, a figure he said made him sit up and take notice – as well as to wonder why this information is only coming to light now.
“My comment was that if this is a fact,” Anderson told Truck West, “then why haven’t you brought this to council’s attention and said you’re going to invest whatever the amount of money is required to step up enforcement?”
Of the recommendations cited, the “Rolls Royce” version would see the city hire five more peace officers at an estimated cost of $600,000 annually, costs city bureaucrats estimate will be ameliorated by some $250,000 in new fines assessed to errant truckers, making the total cost to taxpayers $350,000 a year. That might sound like a lot of money to ordinary human beings, but not, apparently, to Edmonton’s Council.
“It seemed to make eminent sense that if there is $10 million a year to save, investing $350,000 a year to save (that $10 million) is a good investment,” Anderson said, noting that “it’s not as if we are talking about millions and millions of dollars. That kind of money in a budget the size of the city of Edmonton’s is pocket change.”
Anderson also said he figures the cost should be able to be covered by moving around operating budget bank accounts – moving dough from one city pocket to another – if the expected fines don’t materialize.
So far, the recommendations haven’t been acted on, but such action could be coming later this year.
“This would be a package brought forward to the 2015 operating budget in November-December,” Anderson said, “and that package will fund the formation of a Community Standards Commercial Vehicle Unit which would provide direct support for a proposed Goods and Movement strategy.”
When the issue does get put before the city hall politicians’ eyes, Anderson said, it will provide an opportunity for Council to ask some pointed funding questions before deciding to either “provide that kind of money or not. I would assume in that situation that council will ask them to fund it out of their savings.”
Anderson said he thinks that if the initiative does go forward, the price tag will also include the $50,000 recommended for educational outreach – the third potential solution outlined in the city’s report.
“It doesn’t make sense to create an enforcement group and start enforcing without doing some sort of significant attempt to inform the people whose attitudes you’re trying to change,” Anderson said. “It’s conceivable that we might do something like fund the education portion and have the…enforcement agency funded out of existing monies and then bring back a report in a year to see whether or not there’s any noticeable change in the way truckers are operating. Has the education process changed anything?” Anderson said it’s also possible that, if there is significant change in truckers’ behaviour, the five new enforcement hires might not be necessary.
The idea gets qualified support from Richard Warnock, president and CEO of the Alberta Motor Transport Association. Warnock told Truck West that extra enforcement is a good thing.
“I’m not against more police presence,” he said. “We as an association, our members invite them to come and look at us, but that’s not the people who are the guilty ones. We’re all for having the trucks following the rules and regulations of the road. Trucks shouldn’t be running overloaded.”
He also took issue with the city’s math, calling the $10 million a year figure attributed to excess road damage “a terribly inflated number. And they’re saying it’ll cost $600,000 to have five more officers but they’re going to collect $250,000 in fines? I’m going ‘holy smokes, you’re talking about $10 million in road damage and you’re going to throw another $400,000 out of your city budget?’ It isn’t going to fix anything in my opinion.”
Warnock also thinks the city could be barking up the wrong tree somewhat when it comes to overweight loads.
“When (the AMTA) did our over the road survey at the scales, 85% of the trucks were under gross vehicle weight,” he said. As for trucks being in areas where they shouldn’t be, Warnock noted that it isn’t as if most of them are just barrelling through residential areas for the sport of it.
“They’re working in the area,” he said, pointing out that the rules say “you can go to your closest point of your destination off the truck route, so if you’re delivering construction materials or cement or groceries and you have to exit the truck route to make the delivery then that’s part of doing business.”
He added that, while it’s great for the public to say they don’t want trucks going through their neighbourhoods, “they’re the ones that want their garage built, their cement poured or their groceries in the grocery store. They don’t want to drive 20 blocks to get the groceries.”
The issue of trucks going where they’re not supposed to could fix itself over time, at least somewhat, Warnock said, thanks to the construction of the Anthony Henday ring road.
“One of the things that changed (traffic patterns) in Calgary, and I’m sure it’s changed in Edmonton, is these bypasses are taking traffic away from the shortcuts through the city because the bypasses are faster.”
He noted that another way to help truckers and the public live together in more peace and harmony would be for Edmonton to take a look at how Calgary interacts with its trucking industry.
“One thing that Calgary has…is a truck route committee and Alberta Transportation and the AMTA have representation on there, as does the city of Calgary police,” he said, pointing out that the committee meets regularly to look at truck routes and volumes – basically, whether the routes are being used. “It’s kind of an industry-advocate type of thing, where you go to the industry and ask why they aren’t using the truck routes. I believe it’s beneficial.”
Councillor Anderson noted there isn’t such a body in Edmonton yet, but it could be coming as part of the city’s Goods Movement Strategy – and if it does, it would make sense to have truckers involved.
“Any kind of a task force to gather information will…have as many stakeholders as are interested in being involved in it,” he said. “I feel quite comfortable that there will be trucking industry representatives as well. There’s no sense with the city moving forward on something that isn’t determined to be doable and acceptable by both sides of an issue.”
Warnock said his group would definitely be interested in getting on board. “We’d love to have representation on it if there is such a committee,” he said. “It does work, and it does get some cooperation from industry because you can go out to them with an educational type format.”
What happens if the city doesn’t find the savings necessary to help cover the cost of the new hires, if that scenario is adopted?
“That’s what the questions (Council will ask) will cover,” Anderson said of this fall’s process. “How certain are you that money is going to be saved and, if so, what kind of timeline might the savings be realized in and is there sufficient guarantee that any of the savings that (they’re) identifying will be sufficient to cover off the cost of providing these additional staff?”
Time will tell what, if anything, will be done on this issue, but the city’s report did stress the importance of doing something.
“If funding for this initiative is not approved,” it says, “continued degradation to roadway infrastructure will occur resulting in millions of dollars in damage, response times will be negatively affected, enhancements to service delivery will not be realized, limited support will be available to the Edmonton Police Service and Transportation Department, and citizens will not enjoy world class roadways to travel on.”
The AMTA’s Warnock noted that, regardless of how many people complain about them, trucks will be a necessary evil as long as people are unwilling to dig deeper into their pockets for the stuff they buy.
“If you have to send five body jobs to deliver the same groceries (as one tractor-trailer), it doesn’t make sense. The cost of consumer goods would go up,” he said. Warnock reiterated that his organization is all for having more enforcement and more officers on the road, but he wonders if this particular concept is the best way to solve their perceived issues.
“I understand where the city is coming from, and I’m supportive of enforcing (the regulations) – it doesn’t hurt to have a police presence for that – but we’re asking if what they’re suggesting is practical,” he said. “Is it going to give them the results they are looking for? It may. But whether they’ll be able to put a monetary value on whether (the move is) successful, I don’t know.”