Industry forecast: Education, infrastructure keys to success

by Katy de Vries

DIEPPE, N.B. – The trucking community in the northeast corner of North America is big enough to keep the regional economy rolling yet small enough to be one big family. And the goal for the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA) in 2005 will be to ensure that it’s an educated family, according to association president Ralph Boyd.

“With impending new hours of service rules and load securement regulations, it is a crucial time within our industry. We must continue to update our carriers and they can in turn update their customers of the impact of these new regulations and the potential effect they can have on service levels,” said Boyd.

It is important in meeting such challenges to carrier costs and productivity that stakeholders – carriers, shippers, receivers and government – have a good understanding of the impact on all sides of the business.

“It can’t be a one-sided dialogue. We have to maintain a good exchange with our customers and those who regulate our industry,” Boyd said.

But carriers must go beyond education and also be willing to pass costs down to the users of the services. If they are not, they may not have a future in the trucking industry, Boyd warned.

Increased emphasis must be placed on manpower and equipment utilization as a way to serve customers more efficiently while keeping costs in check.

“If the shipper is the one who loaded the trailer and didn’t placard the load properly or fill out the dangerous goods documentation properly or called for service for 2 p.m. but weren’t able to get us away from the loading dock until 7 p.m. for a delivery the next morning in the next province, then they should bear some of the responsibility,” said Boyd. “We have been talking with several of our governments about shipper’s liability and this is also something that will be a focus for 2005.”

One way government can demonstrate a better understanding of trucking industry needs is by establishing an infrastructure investment strategy and contributing financially to rebuilding the nation’s transportation network.

“Without infrastructure investments, we jeopardize our future economic position. Nor would (continued underinvestment) permit us to enhance our current economic position,” said Boyd.

The issue of rest stops – “the forgotten infrastructure” – should also be addressed, said Boyd.

The APTA will be lobbying for more rest stops in the Eastern region.

“As the HOS deadline approaches, we are concerned that we are required to shut down our drivers for eight consecutive hours of rest yet we don’t know where to put them so we need facilities where our manpower can park vehicles safely,” he said.

It is imperative that other road infrastructure improvements continue, such as New Brunswick’s four-lane Trans-Canada Highway network connecting to the Quebec border, said Boyd.

“Since we are the only mode of transportation that interacts directly with consumers, it’s important that we have the links that allow us to move freight and service the population effectively,” Boyd said.

The government also has to consider the 90-mile stretch of waterway that connects Newfoundland and Labrador to the mainland as part of the national highway network, said Boyd.

“Freight moving across that 90 miles at the same rate that it moves down a 90-mile stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway is the ideal situation, but requires substantial investment by the federal government to ensure that Marine Atlantic rates are brought to a comparable level of road transport over the same 90 miles of pavement,” said Boyd.

Weather and mechanical difficulties also affect Marine Atlantic service, so there needs to be a stock of vessels that are capable of meeting the traffic demand.

“We need to focus on the partners working more closely together on the areas of reasonable service at a reasonable rate and clearly understanding the long term outlook for the continuation and enhancement of Marine Atlantic service,” said Boyd.

Currently, there is a task force being brought together involving industry, passengers, customers and Marine Atlantic officials.

This task force will be looking at how improvements can be made to maintain a high level of service and looking at implementing as many efficiencies as possible that will lessen the financial impact on the user.

“The task force needs to look at all the reviews of the past as well,” said Boyd, “and find out what the recommendations were and if they were implemented or not.”

For the most part, trucking in Atlantic Canada looks bright for 2005, said Boyd.

“Most carriers are looking to improve bottom lines and looking to get a better return on investment in their operations. They have become more weary of the costs they are incurring as they move forward, and that is the making of a successful operation,” Boyd said.

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