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Looking for a Lift

EDMONTON, Alta. - An Alberta man has developed a product he says can save the province's trucking industry more than $53 million per year, but Alberta Transportation has yet to approve the new system....

CAN'T GET IT UP: Kelly Yakimishyn's Empty Assist is facing government resistance, he says, despite the inherent benefits.Photo by James Menzies
CAN'T GET IT UP: Kelly Yakimishyn's Empty Assist is facing government resistance, he says, despite the inherent benefits.Photo by James Menzies

EDMONTON, Alta. – An Alberta man has developed a product he says can save the province’s trucking industry more than $53 million per year, but Alberta Transportation has yet to approve the new system.

Kelly Yakimishyn’s Empty Assist kit allows drivers to lift trailer axles eight inches off the ground while unloaded.

It differs from traditional lift axles, as the Empty Assist doesn’t allow the operator to raise the axles when the trailer is loaded or even partially loaded.

Studies have suggested an annual fuel savings of $23 million and tire savings of $30 million could be realized in Alberta alone if the product gains approval from Alberta Transportation.

The environment also stands to benefit, as up to 35 million fewer litres of diesel would be consumed annually, and 33,000 fewer tires would be disposed of each year, according to a study conducted by Ardossen VIS.

However, an increasingly frustrated Yakimishyn has been unable to convince the province to approve his product.

When contacted by Truck News, Alberta Transportation chose not to comment on the situation.

The department is continuing to examine the potential benefits of the system, as well as the possible repercussions.

The four westernmost provinces of Canada currently don’t allow the use of lift axles.

In Eastern Canada, the provinces that do allow their use are aggressively phasing them out since the misuse of traditional lift axles has cost millions of dollars in road damage.

In a letter to Yakimishyn dated Nov. 12, 2002, Alberta Transportation outlined some of its concerns.

The letter explained Alberta signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Vehicle Weights and Dimensions in 1988 that binds the province to a national standard forbidding the use of lift axles.

“As lift axles are prohibited by the MOU, we will not unilaterally change our regulations to legalize them,” read the letter.

That doesn’t sit well with Yakimishyn, since he insists his system is not a lift axle at all, and that its tamper-proof design ensures there will be no way to lift the axles while loaded, causing damage to infrastructure.

In fact, he said it is better for infrastructure because there is less scuffing of pavement while turning when the trailer is unloaded and the two axles are raised.

The letter from Alberta Transportation, however, suggested the department is wary of that claim: “A specification would need to be developed that would prevent either this system or other lift axle mechanisms from being tampered with or modified,” read the letter.

“The introduction of systems that do not equalize axle weight or have the potential to be circumvented could result in significant damage to the infrastructure and potential safety concerns.”

Since it’s not easy for inspection officers to differentiate between an Empty Assist and a traditional lift axle, the department has also voiced concerns about the introduction of other forms of lift axles, should the Empty Assist gain approval.

But Yakimishyn has his own theories.

He suggests the province is unwilling to approve the Empty Assist because of the loss in fuel tax revenue that would result, should the system be widely implemented in the province.

And Yakimishyn is gaining support from carriers who have tested the system first-hand.

Lorne Melnyk, owner of Enrol Trucking, tested the Empty Assist in March and April of 2003.

He recorded fuel savings using the Road Relay computer program, fuel statements and personal daily log books.

Melnyk noted the engine load percentage with all axles down at a speed of 90 km/h was 34 to 36 per cent.

With two of the three axles raised, that number dropped to between 19 and 21 per cent due to the reduced rolling resistance.

Fuel savings were pegged at $645.32 on one Empty Assist-equipped unit in the month of April alone.

Also, Melnyk explained “There is hardly any tire wear, and the difference in the unit in starting off and rolling down the highway is very noticeable.”

Wade Sims, president of Sims Enterprises, has also had the opportunity to test the Empty Assist, and he is equally impressed.

His company hauls gravel and typically runs empty 50 per cent of the time, making it a perfect candidate to implement the Empty Assist.

He has seen his fuel mileage increase from 5.55 miles per gallon (mpg) in 2002, to between 6.85 and 7.20 mpg with an identical configuration equipped with the Empty Assist.

He also claims his tires are lasting nearly twice as long and he expects to extend the life of his brakes, wheel bearings and shock absorbers as well.

“The fuel savings are nominal enough that you do notice it every month, but now we’re starting to see the tire savings,” said Sims.

He said the rear axle requires new tires every six months whereas the tires on the front two liftable axles retain 75 to 80 per cent of their original condition within the same period.

Sims is just as frustrated as Yakimishyn that the province appears to be dragging its feet on the issue.

“I’ve got five more trailers that are waiting for this thing. I’d love to put it on all of them but I’m just not allowed to,” Sims said.

“I figure I’m saving $2,000 to $3,000 on wear and tear on the trailer every year. It’s just like getting a trailer for free for three to four months out of the year. I can see it on my bottom line every month, that truck (with the Empty Assist) produces me a better income than the rest of them.”

He has had to resist the urge to equip his other trailers with the system, noting the savings would probably outweigh the costs of any fines incurred for doing so.

Yakimishyn has demonstrated his system to the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA), and has gained its support as well.

Mayne Root, director of regulatory issues with the AMTA, said “I know they’re opposed to lift axles, but as far as this goes, it’s only lifted when it’s empty so I’m not sure why they don’t like it.”

He said the AMTA always supports new technologies that can improve the bottom line for carriers and he hopes Alberta Transportation takes a hard look at approving it.

“It would probably mean a change in regulations to allow it,” he speculated.

“I don’t know what the problem is – everybody’s winning,” lamented Yakimishyn. “The savings are phenomenal.”

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