Executive view: Claude Robert

by Adam Ledlow

BOUCHERVILLE, Que. – Robert Transport, one of Quebec’s largest carriers, has always enjoyed being at the forefront of new technology and equipment, most recently assisting in the testing of new electric on-board recorders for the trucking industry.

Truck News spoke with Robert president and newly minted CTA chairman, Claude Robert to hear his thoughts on the new technology and the overall state of trucking in Canada.

TN: Do you believe this is a healthy time for the Canadian trucking industry?

CR: In general, this is a difficult time for the Canadian trucking industry. Reasons include the Canadian dollar and reduction of the export market; costs of energy; increased operating costs in general; and a slow-paced economy in Canada and an economy which is starting to slow down in the US.

TN: How has the strong Canadian dollar impacted your business?

CR: The strong Canadian dollar has impacted the trucking industry to a very large degree, most (significantly) for the portion (of companies) dealing with the US. In addition, it has facilitated imports and made the life of Canadian manufacturing businesses very difficult. As trucking is the reflection of the economy, when the economy is not very good, business is difficult.

TN: What has been Robert’s strategy in dealing with the increased cost of 2007 trucks and engines? Did you pre-buy?

CR: Our strategy has been to accelerate our replacement program and at the same time reduce the size of the fleet in response to the economic situation

TN: How do you see other carriers go about dealing with the increased cost of 2007 equipment? Will rates have to increase or will surcharges be passed on to shippers?

CR: This question is hard to answer. The impact of the dollar is very important when you buy new vehicles.

The market is playing a large role in rate determination. Whether the carriers will be able to recoup all these additional costs, I doubt very much.

The sad part is that the company that will not be disciplined to manage their costs and their revenues will not survive.

The second impact is that the carriers will keep their trucks for a longer life cycle, which is impacting safety and the environment.

It is too bad that government officials do not recognize the benefits associated with the utilization of the new engine by offering programs and special rebates that would facilitate the introduction of the new technologies.

TN: You’re a big supporter of on-board computers and have said you will champion this cause through CTA. Is there widespread support for EOBRs within the CTA and if so, why?

CR: EOBRs are like the black boxes in the plane. The airline industry is very disciplined because of all the risks associated to flying. In reality, there is much more death associated with accidents on the road than with airplane crashes.

EOBRs are to become the equivalent of the black boxes that we find in the airplane today. In 10 years from now, I am certain, we will eventually find the same in cars; this is why it is so urgent we get them in the trucks. Why? This is a safety tool that will bring every carrier on the same playing field. And for those who claim anybody can cheat an EOBR, all I say is good luck.

Why people are apprehensive about EOBRs, I do not understand. There are rules and regulations and they should apply to everyone. At the same time with the EOBRs there are tools that you can link to EOBRs that will detect fatigue, the driver’s attitude, but more importantly, that will confirm the competency of our professional drivers.

Those tools will protect the drivers in case of accidents, on the way they drive and will provide them with a quality of life by paying what they deserve and what they earned. Some people have a very narrow view of what EOBRs will bring to the industry and to the drivers.

In general, all members of the CTA are in favour of speed limiters, EOBRs and harmonization of weights and dimensions across Canada and also with the US.

But every one of them agrees that it must apply to all operators in the industry.

TN: Naturally, as chairman of the CTA you also support the introduction of speed limiters. Your home province was the first to adopt the CTA policy, are you confident other provinces will follow suit?

CR: Limiting speed means a lot for me and for the industry. It means a safer environment, less pollution, costs saved on maintenance and conformity with the laws. How could people claim it is okay to drive at 120 km/h when the speed limit is 90 km/h or 100km/h? It is all a question of discipline and respect. Yes, I hope that all provinces will follow the initiative of the OTA and adopted by our Quebec government.

TN: There’s been a lot of consolidation within the trucking industry. Is Robert a buyer or a seller or neither?

CR: This is a question that I will answer by saying, ‘Life is full of opportunity; you have look for it.’

TN: All carriers seem to be struggling to find quality drivers. What is Robert’s strategy when it comes to recruiting and retaining good drivers?

TN: Besides speed limiters and EOBRs, what other issues will be at the forefront for you as chairman of the CTA?

CR: Harmonization across Canada on issues such as weights and size, the Hours-of-Service, the single tire issue – which is still not accepted in some provinces – are elements we have to fight for to facilitate trucking within our country.

Support for an anti-idling law across the country and getting the right support from the governments for the utilization of the anti-idling devices is also a pre-occupation we would like to address in the coming months.

TN: You are a big fan of reducing idling. Besides speed limiters, what has your company done to minimize its idle time?

CR: Mostly all highway equipment is equipped with anti-idling devices. We believe in it, it is economical to do it and it is our contribution to future generation.

TN: You’ve stated your goal is “to build a new culture of competition based on compliance” in the trucking industry. Can you expand on this and how you plan to go about achieving this?

CR: Compliance is an issue that we should not even discuss; it is a matter of value and of respect. It is like the old saying, ‘When you tell the truth, you do not have to remember it.’

In trucking (or in life) it is the same: when you do things as you’re supposed to, you never need to worry.

TN: Do you believe changes to the carrier/shipper relationship are necessary in order to cope with new regulations such as Hours-of-Service and load securement?

CR: Absolutely. We see more and more shippers concerned with the new regulations and it is great. Hopefully there will come a day where it is going to be in the culture of every organization.

TN: You have a reputation as being very “hands on” in your work, often logging between 35,000 and 45,000 km per year. How does this help you stay on top of new technology and regulations?

CR: For me driving is a pleasure and discussing and sharing with drivers is just great. I learn from them and they learn from me. It is a mutual pleasure. It is also a good way to see what is taking place with customers and the way they treat drivers. I always try to stay incognito so I can learn more about the situation in general.

TN: Robert has received top honours in several safety competitions and driving championships, not to mention your work testing EOBRs and fatigue management equipment. Is Robert trying to set a safety benchmark for other carriers to follow?

CR: No, we are not there to set benchmarks; it is part of our culture and our mission. Safety is an issue which is not negotiable and our responsibility is to train every employee to the highest possible level of safety.

We are very preoccupied with our people and are always looking, searching and testing new tools that will provide the best and safest environments to the employees.

Part of our mission statement is employee resp
ect, professional attitude, quality services, acting responsibly. To provide the most efficient and economical services to our customers is our number one goal.

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