Industry Issues: Truck Safety, Small Carriers and Other Myths

by David Bradley

One of the great things about writing this column or from other coverage OTA and CTA receive in Truck News is the feedback from the readers.

Often the comments are very helpful and constructive. Other times they are based more on emotion or frustration than fact. Regardless, there is never a shortage of opinions.

In the last issue of Truck News, a story appeared with my response to comments made by some of our political leaders following the truck crash on Sept. 29, which closed Highway 401 across the top of Toronto for the better part of a day. Luckily, no one was seriously injured.

But the industry’s image took a beating in the press again. I do not comment to the media on specific accidents.

Disappointingly, but predictably, not everyone is prepared to wait until all the facts are in. Again in this instance, the media and some politicians did what they always seem to do in these cases – speculate on the causes and call for the industry’s collective head on a plate – via more truck blitzes, more shipments by rail, etc.

There is no doubt that these sorts of crashes are a major inconvenience to the public – and to the trucking industry – and people will always look for someone to blame.

But, my response to those people who would paint the entire industry with the same brush was that if they are truly serious about improving truck safety they would be calling on the government to concentrate its enforcement efforts on the “bottom feeders” of the industry, not waste the government’s and the industry’s resources and time auditing and inspecting the majority of carriers that do not pose a risk.

Shippers should be held liable for their actions and decisions. The licence mills should be shut down.

Accident scenes need to be cleaned up quicker if possible.

My comments drew some heat from one reader who, in an email to the editorial director of Truck News, said that I “was once again blaming everyone but the true culprits.” He said that the “bottom feeders” I referred to “are only small business owners who set their rates to compete with those set by the large trucking companies…”

After making some good points in terms of the current state of Class A licence testing, this reader went on to insinuate that the large carriers (who he claims set the rates) are the problem and that OTA only represents the large carrier.

Nowhere in my comments did I suggest that the “bottom feeders” were exclusively a particular size of carrier. But this raises two issues.

On the substantive issue of safety, I for one feel that the effectiveness of truck blitzes in ensuring safe highways is far less than their apparent public relations value. What ends up happening is that the entire industry has to put up with unnecessary inspections and delays and gets dragged through the mud by the media yet again. Target the junk, that’s fine. (Most of that is operated by people NOT in the trucking industry).

But, there are carriers out there – a small minority, but they do exist – who should be the subject of more intense enforcement and scrutiny by the ministry, letting everyone else get on with business.

The second issue – and this is a pet peeve of mine after 20 years in the business – is the suggestion that OTA only or mainly represents the largest carriers.

That is a myth. Presently, 23 per cent of OTA’s for-hire carrier members have 10 or fewer trucks; 41 per cent have 20 or fewer; 69 per cent have less than 50 trucks.

The so-called “big carriers” (say 100 or more trucks) represent only 16 per cent of the OTA membership.

Moreover, even the largest trucking companies are small entities compared to the rest of the business community, including most of the shippers they haul for.

OTA has a board of directors (the people who set OTA policy) of about 80 carriers.

That is huge and I am often questioned as to why we would have such a large board.

The reason is that we have tried to create the perfect democracy. Every size of carrier (small, medium and large), from every region of the province and the continent, hauling every conceivable commodity is represented on the board.

Every member gets a vote in electing board members.

OTA may not be everyone’s cup of tea. We do represent the interests of carriers. (However, on most issues I don’t feel that this is as inconsistent with other segments of the industry as some would like to believe).

But, our membership is a direct reflection of the demographic of the industry.

We do represent all carriers in the industry, though some of them perhaps have chosen not to join and to pay their dues. They should.

– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

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