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Major Issues Loom For The Canadian Trucking Industry In 2010

Clearly, the economy will continue to be the major pre-occupation of Canadian trucking companies in 2010. While there are indications that things may have hit bottom, at least in terms of volume, thin...

Clearly, the economy will continue to be the major pre-occupation of Canadian trucking companies in 2010. While there are indications that things may have hit bottom, at least in terms of volume, things remain quite fragile. The US economy and the value of the Canadian dollar versus the US greenback continue to be major wildcards. It would probably be best to operate as if things were not likely to improve, but hope that they do.

Economic issues are not the only source of concern for 2010. A host of major policy/regulatory issues loom large. In the space afforded me here, I will concentrate on a few of the ones that I think could have the most significant impact on the industry.

Perhaps we should not have been shocked (given the previous success the anti-truck groups have had in the US courts) but it still came as a bombshell when the FMCSA announced that it would be reviewing, revising and rewriting the US hours-of-service rule in 2010.The outcome is unpredictable at this point. However, you can bet the chances of the US rule being made more flexible are slim to none. It is likely that the additional hour of driving and the 34-hour reset (modeled after a proposal developed by CTA), will be under the microscope. At the same time, FMCSA is developing its EOBR rule and one would think the pressure to come in with some sort of mandate is increased.

At this point in time, there appears to be little appetite for reopening the HoS regulation in Canada. Indeed, there is pressure being brought to bear by some provinces (four have yet to adopt anything close to the federal regulation) to increase flexibility for certain sectors.

Whether developments in the US will cause a change in thinking here remains to be seen. In the end, it really doesn’t matter since Canadian carriers and drivers who operate into and out of the US will have to comply with the US rules regardless.

CTA supports a universal EOBR mandate and is currently working with federal/provincial officials to develop a Canadian standard, which will then give Canada a basis from which to sit down with the Americans and try to come up with a North American standard.

That work is now more important than ever.

Other major safety initiatives are also expected to take shape in 2010. It seems more and more likely that the FMCSA will introduce some form of mandatory testing for sleep apnea amongst commercial drivers.

While we may not see the rule in 2010, work is continuing in this direction. At the same time, CTA is working with Canadian governments to develop a Canadian program that it is hoped would receive reciprocal treatment from the US. If (or more likely when) the US goes, Canadian carriers and drivers will again have to comply. Think drug testing all over again.

There is also little doubt that the US is moving towards a regulation mandating the installation of electronic stability control systems on heavy trucks at the factory level. Two of the major OEMs already make such devices a standard part of their vehicle package while it is an option for the others. The evidence, both empirical and, from carriers’ own experiences suggests the technology works and is cheap insurance. CTA is urging Transport Canada to begin preparing now to mirror the US rules when they are introduced.

The battle against climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions is moving to the next level. While we may not see a cap-and-trade system introduced in 2010, there will be plenty of other initiatives. In January 2010, California will start requiring trucks operating into, out of and within the state, to be equipped with SmartWay-certified fuel efficiency technologies and devices -Canadian carriers included. Will other signatories to the Western Climate Initiative -including four Canadian provinces -follow suit?

How will Canadian carriers comply when most provinces restrict the weight on wide-base single tires and no province currently allows a full boat-tail -two of the main technologies that SmartWay certifies and which are a key component of CTA’s enviroTruck initiative?

The debate underway in the US over highway re-authorization funding is also one to watch. Policy-makers there have come to the realization that if in fact the measures to reduce fuel consumption succeed, revenues from fuel taxes -the source of funding for the US highway system -will also shrink.

Other ways of raising money will have to be found. ATA favours an increase in the federal fuel tax. Others prefer tolls or vehicle weight/distance taxes.

In Canada, public sentiment seems to be turning against the huge budget deficits that every province and the federal government have rung up over the past year. Will we be able to grow our way back to fiscal balance or will governments ultimately have to look at increasing taxes?

These are some of the key issues that will dominate the policy agenda in 2010.

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

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