Marine Atlantic ferry reservation system stumbles forward
May 1, 2010
ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. - The new Marine Atlantic ferry reservation system for commercial vehicles crossing to and from Newfoundland, implemented in March, is meeting with grudging acceptance from Canada's ...
ST. JOHN’S, Nfld. –The new Marine Atlantic ferry reservation system for commercial vehicles crossing to and from Newfoundland, implemented in March, is meeting with grudging acceptance from Canada’s trucking industry, with some questioning whether costly fines for non-compliance with the new rules are just a money grab.
A case in point: One trucking insider claims his company was fined for turning up with reefers instead of dry vans, even though the reefers were being used as dry vans at the time.
“It’s not all bad, but I don’t agree with the way they’re giving fines,” says Louis Gaudet, a dispatcher for Armour Transport based in Moncton, N.B. “For instance, they’re fining us for a change to reefers even if the reefers aren’t running.”
Gaudet says Marine Atlantic has given Armour a $100 fine every time a driver has turned up with a reefer instead of a dry van. “They said they didn’t have to be running to be considered reefers. We got the issue addressed after a while, but I don’t how much we paid before we said something.”
Gaudet also points out flaws in the new reservation system. Reservations can only be made by phone, he says. (Marine Atlantic has stated it plans to put the system online by mid-April).
“Whenever I try to get hold of them to cancel a reservation I can’t get though,” says Gaudet. “So we end up paying a fine for cancelling late.”
The fine for late cancellation is also $100 per truck, says Gaudet. “It’s ridiculous. I spend hours on the phone trying to get through and then we have to pay anyway. And it’s not like I can just ignore our customers when they call, I can’t stay on hold forever.”
While Gaudet agrees in principle with the need for a reservation system for commercial vehicles, he is cynical about the fines.
“They’re supposed to be doing this so they can fill their boats. But it just looks like a money grab to me.” Gaudet estimates that since Marine Atlantic implemented the new system in March, so-called late cancellations for trucking companies have numbered in the hundreds. “That’s stupid, if we can’t even get through when we call,” says Gaudet.
But Marine Atlantic is working with trucking companies to improve the situation, says Tara Laing, in customer relations.
“There are some who criticize the system, but there are others who say it’s a good thing,” says Laing. “And we are working closely with the industry to address the challenges. We estimate we should be able to address most of the issues in the next couple of months.”
As for the difficulty some companies are having getting through via phone, Laing says Marine Atlantic is working to solve the problem.
“We have already added more staff to answer the phones and we are going online. We estimate the reservation system should be online by mid-April.”
Laing says that with four vessels in the company’s fleet, there’s more than enough capacity for commercial vehicles, even though some, like Gaudet, say they can’t get a reservation when they need one.
“When it comes to just-in-time, we are doing an analysis of the booking system and looking at the trends in the types of commodities our passengers are carrying. What you’re carrying at the time of booking is what determines when you get a reservation,” says Laing. In other words, reefers are generally for spoilables so they may get an earlier spot. Hence the fine if you tell Marine Atlantic you’re bringing a reefer and then don’t.
Bookings can be cancelled up to 12 hours before sailing, explains Laing. After that, companies get fined. Twelve days after the new system was implemented (March 15) no less than 670 cancellations after the 12-hour mark had already been made, she adds.
“That’s nine full vessels,” Laing says. “That’s so significant that we went back to the industry to explain how the cancellations are affecting everyone. Vessels are leaving without being full. And other trucks can’t get a reservation. So that’s why we’re fining them, we just want to ensure everyone has a level playing field.”
Laing says Marine Atlantic is also looking at whether the deadline for cancellations needs to be increased.
Adjustments definitely have to be made, agrees Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association executive director Jean-Marc Picard, but that was widely anticipated, he says.
“There have been some bumps in the road,” says Picard. “It’s a huge change. There are some bugs to be worked out and hopefully with our recommendations things will get better. But this didn’t come as a surprise. The industry heard about this well before it happened. Marine Atlantic was holding meetings about the change in different cities across the Maritimes months ago.”
‘They’re supposed to be doing this so they can fill their boats. But it just looks like a money grab to me.’