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Is Bigger Better in Ontario?

CORNWALL, Ont. - Why doesn't Ontario permit, at least in a limited way, the use of long combination vehicles (LCVs)? Harry Valentine would like to know.

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE: LCVs like this one, photographed in Alberta, reduce truck traffic and fuel consumption.Photo by James Menzies

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE: LCVs like this one, photographed in Alberta, reduce truck traffic and fuel consumption.Photo by James Menzies

CORNWALL, Ont. – Why doesn’t Ontario permit, at least in a limited way, the use of long combination vehicles (LCVs)? Harry Valentine would like to know.

The former professional truck driver, now a freelance writer, has been asking the question for years, but became even more puzzled about the province’s reticence this January when he saw his home city of Cornwall lose a competition for an estimated 900-job, 1.5 million sq. ft. Canadian Tire distribution centre to Coteau du Lac, the Quebec town right across the border.

Valentine is convinced the loss, to a small town that’s hungry for jobs (Ontario’s overall unemployment rate rose by 0.3 percentage points in January), was largely due to the fact that Ontario won’t allow truckers to run long combination vehicles.

“That’s the only reason I could come up with,” said Valentine, who has heard the official reason given by Canadian Tire for its decision to build in Coteau du Lac instead of Cornwall was “fuel costs.”

“It didn’t make sense because fuel is already more expensive in Quebec.”

Convinced he was on to something, Valentine subsequently presented a brief on the subject to city council.

Apparently, city council thought Valentine might be on to something too. Valentine’s brief was the subject of much discussion at a subsequent city council meeting where Coun. Mark MacDonald said, according to the research he’s done, Quebec offers commercial tax breaks, has cheaper commercial power rates and allows double full-sized tractor-trailers on their highways.

“Those factors alone give Quebec communities a huge advantage over Ontario cities like Cornwall, MacDonald told the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder. If the Ontario government allowed double full-sized tractor-trailers on its highways – even if it’s only in Eastern Ontario – Cornwall would benefit greatly, the councillor believes.

Cornwall Chief Administrative Officer Paul Fitzpatrick, for his part, was told that long-term transportation costs were a factor in Canadian Tire’s decision to locate in Coteau du Lac instead of Cornwall.

“But it didn’t really occur to me that LCVs might have something to do with the Canadian Tire decision until we received that brief. (In fact, Fitzpatrick wasn’t even familiar with the term ‘LCV.’) The decision to forward the brief on to our local MPP (Liberal Jim Brownell) and the Ministry of Transport was taken by the council and now we’re waiting to hear back.”

Lack of public awareness surrounding LCVs and the advantages their use may be giving some provinces over others isn’t surprising, says Ontario Trucking Association spokesman Doug Switzer. The association has been lobbying the government for years to catch up with other Canadian provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Quebec, who do allow for their use.

“It’s the subject of ongoing talks,” says Switzer. “But it’s not an easy sell. The government has to contend with all those people who are already scared of big trucks on the highways, and who will be even more scared to drive beside a truck that’s twice as long. Never mind that they are actually proven to be extremely safe, that they save on fuel and reduce emissions, and that one LCV will take up less space than two trucks hauling one trailer each.”

Many third party logistics providers are equally ignorant of the economic advantages of LCVs, points out Switzer.

“Until third party logistics providers truly understand what LCVs can do for them in terms of efficiency and savings, we’re going to be fighting an uphill battle,” he says. “Shippers should know that LCV use would be a huge benefit when it comes to doing something like moving auto parts from Woodstock to Oshawa. They have to come forward and speak to government about it. Government may not always listen to truckers, but they do listen when it’s business doing the talking. You can bet they’d listen if GM announced it was closing a plant.”

OTA, in collaboration with the Canadian Trucking Alliance and Natural Resources Canada’s FleetSmart program will very soon be releasing a study on LCV use elsewhere in Canada, based on information gathered from 10 carriers running LCVs out west and in Quebec, including Bison Transport, Transport Guilbault, and Transport Morneau. Conducted over an 18-month period beginning in February 2005, the study measures live safety, economic and environmental data on double 53s. The first of its kind, the project will be used by the US Environmental Protection Agency to show the positive impact of greater LCV use in the US.

According to NRCan’s Lynda Harvey, even midway through the study the data was making a strong case for LCV use in Ontario and elsewhere. (Note: All tests were conducted on pre-07 engines although the expectations are that the performance of 07 engines will be similar to the 02s.)

Harvey says early indicators showed an average saving of up to 28L/100km (2 MPG) for the turnpike doubles against tractor-trailers for fleets surveyed. This could produce a savings of up to 1.8 billion kilometres of truck travel annually, and generate energy savings that could reach 260 million litres of fuel annually – amounting to a reduction of 730 kilotonnes of GHGs per year.

Indeed Transport Canada’s Transportation Climate Change Table considers LCVs a viable measure for the reduction of greenhouse gases. Studies show that using turnpike doubles can reduce vehicle kilometres by 50% for the same volume of cargo.

As for safety, a report by the Canada Safety Council entitled: Literature Review of the Safety Record of LCV in Canada states: “While accident involvement rates of LCVs are clearly less than those of single trailer trucks in general operations, it would appear that there is little difference in accident involvement rates of LCVs and other trucks when operated under similar conditions of weather, road and driver experience. However, the use of LCVs means fewer kilometres of travel (reduced exposure), compared to single trailer vehicles to move the same volume of freight. For example, a turnpike double would require 50% of the vehicle kilometres to move the same volume of freight.”

(The studies that showed turnpike doubles with a higher per mile collision rate than standard tractor-trailers operated under similar conditions had a 10% higher involvement ratio. Adjusting for the lower exposure ratio of turnpike doubles would mean these vehicles are about 45% safer when operated under similar conditions. This would increase to over 50% safer in those cases where the turnpike doubles were estimated to have a lower per mile collision rate.)

The review also notes that provinces that do allow the use of LCVs issue special permits that impose conditions on fleets operating LCVs.

Conditions include training requirements for drivers, specific procedures for coupling and uncoupling trailers, braking, speed, and turning, equipment that can be used and the time of day that LCVs can be operated on certain highways. In some cases, carriers operating LCVs must sign a special agreement with the permitting province.

The news doesn’t come as much of a surprise to provinces that do allow for LCV use.

One study states that in more than 30 years of LCV operations in Alberta, LCVs have been found to be involved in fewer collisions per million vehicle kilometres of travel compared to average commercial vehicles, due to the strict operating restrictions placed on their use. The study indicated that 1% of truck tractor collisions in Alberta involved an LCV.

And in January 2006, Alberta Infrastructure addressed the question of LCV safety in a document entitled: Frequently Asked Questions About Trucks. The publication states that using LCVs rather than semi-trailers resulted in a 90% reduction in collisions for Alberta.

Indeed, LCVs have the lowest collision rate of all vehicle classes in Alberta, according to a four-year study conducted by Woodrooffe and Associates.

From 1995-1998, Alberta Infrastructure recorded a total of 37 incidents involving LCVs. Of
those 37 incidents, two collisions involved fatalities and none of the collisions were the fault of the LCV operators.

The study also found that Alberta’s permit conditions governing the operation of LCVs had a vital influence in the creation of a safe operating environment. Permit conditions for LCV use in Alberta included selective routing, restrictions on vehicle speed, restrictions on operating hours (time of day), enhanced driver qualifications and restrictions for adverse road and weather conditions. Interestingly, adverse weather and road conditions were cited as responsible for the majority of LCV collisions (42%) putting LCVs on a par with every other vehicle on the road when it comes to safety.

Never mind the fact that, if LCVs are subject to the same weight restrictions as regular semis, they’ll cube out well before they weigh out. (In other words, a cab hauling two trailers won’t be hauling two trailers full of bricks – but it could be hauling two trailers full of toilet paper.)

So if LCVs are safe, cut fuel use and emissions and put small town Ontario on an even playing field with neighbouring provinces (as well as 20 States, including New York) why is the Ontario government so reluctant to permit LCV use?

The government is just acting in the public’s best interest, says MTO spokesman Bob Nichols.

“Ontario believes in a safe, efficient and integrated transportation system. We understand that some shippers in Ontario would like to use double trailers. Although we are not planning on introducing LCVs at this time, we are monitoring their use in other jurisdictions. The Ministry of Transportation appreciates many drivers and passengers have concerns about sharing the road with longer trucks and understands more work needs to be done by industry to reach out to stakeholders and the public on this issue.”

As for the NRCan study: “MTO is aware of the study. Ministry staff have participated on the steering committee along with staff from Transport Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Ontario Trucking Association, Canadian Trucking Alliance and the Canada Safety Council. The study is not yet finalized, so it would be premature to comment on its findings.”

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