Gravel haulers force deal with ministry in axle weight dispute
October 1, 2000
MILTON, Ont. - Aggregate haulers in the Greater Toronto Area reached an agreement with Transportation Minister David Turnbull late last month to bring an end to a dispute that sparked a four-day weigh...
MILTON, Ont. – Aggregate haulers in the Greater Toronto Area reached an agreement with Transportation Minister David Turnbull late last month to bring an end to a dispute that sparked a four-day weigh-scale blockade that tied up traffic along Hwy. 401 in Milton, Ont.
More than 100 gravel drivers parked their trucks at the Milton scale on Sept. 21 and refused to leave until the minister addressed their issues. The problem, according to gravel hauler Ron Wilson of Stoney Creek, Ont., started because the ministry went back on its word.
“Back in 1988, the ministry said if we dropped 1,500 kg off our gross vehicle weight, we wouldn’t get fined for being over on axle weight,” Wilson explained. “Then about a month ago they started fining guys for being over on axles, but they never gave us back the 1,500 kg.”
The protest remained peaceful and the drivers were careful not to block the highway itself. But traffic remained snarled along the stretch anyway, as truckers and four-wheelers alike slowed to rubberneck and honk their support.
With the protest entering its fourth day, and the gravel haulers threatening to extend the protest to weigh scales on the Queen Elizabeth Way, the minister finally came to the table. Turnbull met representatives from the gravel haulers at an undisclosed location on Sept. 24 to hammer out an agreement, and the drivers cleared their trucks out of the scale as a sign of good faith. After several days of negotiations that also involved aggregate shippers, an agreement was reached.
“There is no signed document, but we have come up with a plan that addresses all of the drivers’ concerns,” said Bill Parish, Turnbull’s communications assistant.
Of course, a load is supposed to be spread out in the box so that a disproportionate amount of weight does not ride on any one axle. In theory, the regulation makes sense, but it’s rather difficult follow in the real world, the drivers argued.
“If you’ve got a 40-foot trailer, it takes three buckets to load it,” said Ron’s uncle, Vern Wilson, a gravel hauler from Milton. “But the guy loading the truck can’t finesse it so that the axle weights come out perfect – 11,000 kg here, 14,000 kg there. All the driver knows is he is 1,500 (kg) under his legal gross vehicle weight when he leaves the quarry.”
The drivers say they had been observing the 1,500 kg-under-gross policy and the system was working well for them. That all changed about a month ago, they say, when the ministry reopened the Milton weigh scale, which had been closed for renovations, and started fining aggregate haulers for exceeding axle weights, regardless of their gross vehicle weight. The final straw came when inspectors started to demand that drivers of trucks with overweight axles redistribute loads with a shovel before being allowed to leave.
“One 52-year-old driver spent five hours shoveling before they let him leave, and that kind of brought this to a head,” Vern Wilson said.
Under the terms of the agreement, Parish said, the shippers have agreed to provide the weigh station with a backhoe and an operator to be on-site during normal station hours, to redistribute loads if necessary.
Secondly, Turnbull has committed to pushing for mandatory box markings that should make it easier for the loader in the pit to determine allowable axle weights and evenly distribute loads. But that step will take a little longer than the others because it requires new legislation.
“Safety is still the ministry’s top priority,” Parish said.
As for the aggregate drivers, they feel their protest was a success.
“We got what we wanted,” said Ron Wilson. “They aren’t going to pick on the axle weights if we stay under on gross, and there’ll be no more shoveling. But if we’re over on gross vehicle weight, we’ll be nailed to the wall, you can bet.” n
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