Ontario, Quebec strike deal on dimensions

by John G. Smith

TORONTO, Ont. – Ontario and Quebec have inked an extensive deal to harmonize the weights and dimensions of equipment that crosses the provincial border, Truck News has learned.

The agreement – expected to be in place by 2001 – will phase out traditional lift axles in favor of self-steering designs over a period of five years, pull lift axle controls outside of truck cabs, and introduce a common 18,000-kg limit for tandem-axle configurations.

Ontario currently allows 17,000-kg loads on tandems with 1.22-metre (48-inch) spreads. Although Quebec has already adopted the 18,000-kg standard, it is allowing dumps and some other trucks to load 20,000 kg on tandems prior to Dec. 31, 2001.

Ontario’s trial 53-foot quads with self-steering axles will be allowed by permit in each province, as will the so-called “Quebec quads”, which are 50 feet, 10 inches long. The Quebec configuration has been embraced by such operations as woodchip haulers and beverage and grocery fleets that need the space for the two additional pallets that won’t fit into a 48-foot trailer.

Ontario Transport Minister David Turnbull and Quebec Transport Minister Guy Chevrette are expected to sign the agreement in August.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s a done deal,” says Claude Pigeon, executive vice-president of the Quebec Trucking Association. “It means harmonization, simplicity, and this is what’s great about it.

“It’s a win-win situation. I don’t see any jurisdiction getting more than the other.”

A 34,000-kg limit for four-axle semi-trailers under the deal is a particular benefit for Quebec haulers, he says. “Some carriers might have a question whether it is still interesting for them to operate B-trains.”

“It will allow (carriers) to standardize their fleet over time around the 53-foot trailer, which is the North American standard,” Ontario Trucking Association president David Bradley says of the deal.

For Gord Dennis, who oversees the Molson Breweries fleet from Etobicoke, Ont., a deal – any deal – is good news. He held off buying 15 new trailers this spring, as Ontario continued to hold off on its promise to strike a deal.

Molson was set to test Ontario’s 53-foot quads, but the price of the equipment put the configurations out of reach. The 53-foot versions with self-steering axles would have cost him about $20,000 more than traditional 48-foot tridems. “If I switched to a tridem, I would have lost 12 to 13 per cent of my payload,” he said. “Now, do I buy B-trains? A B-train is not much more expensive than that 53-foot.” After all, a B-train will carry 31 pallets of beer, compared to the 26 pallets that can be fit into a 53-foot trailer. Yet the price of one 53-foot design also makes him wonder whether he should simply buy a pair of 48-foot trailers, which would be roughly the same price.

Perhaps the most controversial element of the deal is a push to introduce self-steering lift axles that aren’t exactly the darlings of many industry officials.

“The (self-)steering axle is not a very popular piece of equipment in the industry, and I don’t know many carriers who are anxious to put that equipment on their trailers,” Pigeon says. “We have been working very, very hard to make this piece of equipment viable, and we have a joint committee with the government that we are driving, and we are hoping to come to something interesting by the end of this year.”

The government may be willing to soften its stance if it’s involved in research that uncovers a problem with self-steering designs, he suggests.

However, most industry officials who have been involved in the discussions seem willing to except the relatively rapid grandfathering of existing lift axles within five years.

“Some are going to argue it is long enough, and it puts the onus onlift to the industry that it is viable,” Pigeon says of the self-steering designs.

This equipment doesn’t have the problems of decades ago, Bradley says. (Earlier designs wouldn’t steer in reverse, and could be damaged if they weren’t lifted before heading into something like a loading dock.) Government officials obviously agree.

But Bruce Richards, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, doesn’t side with them.

“We all knew the end of lift axles was on the horizon. It has been for some time,” he says. “But (self-steering designs) don’t work quite that well. Engineers had some literature from the manufacturers, but that’s not enough.

“The biggest problem we still see with the self-steering axles is if they don’t turn to the extent they should, there’s a lot of scuffing and buffing on that lead axle.” Particularly, cornering is an issue in urban lanes, where the configurations need to sweep across two or three lanes, he says.

Nor is it the only provision bothering some industry groups.

“People want the convenience of cab controls,” adds Al Tucker of the Canadian Transportation Equipment Association, referring to the provision that will force the lift axle controls to be mounted on trailers. “It’s a demonstration of not believing the operators are using these devices properly.”

“We’re not happy with the idea that they’re only going to have a five-year grandfathering for existing vehicles,” he adds. Nor is his association crazy about the 3,000-kg weight penalty for equipment after that.

“That’s a significant loss of freight.”

According to the Ontario government, there are probably 10,000 trailers that would be affected, including dry bulk tanks, he says.

At least, says Richards, there finally seems to be a decision on the horizon. “Let’s make a decision, collectively if we can, so people know what to buy and people know what to make,” he says. “And if everybody has to abide by the same rules, there’s no advantage.” n

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