Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation goes to work

by Bruce Richards

Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, under a relatively new Minister in Bob Chiarelli, recently moved on several initiatives that the industry has supported or proposed and, after what in some cases seemed like years of waiting under previous administrations, this is welcome news.

One of the most contentious regulations in recent years was the one that mandated new tests for commercial drivers simply because they had reached the age of 65. We all know the furor that created and the fall-out of having experienced and qualified drivers leave the industry rather than be subjected to a test of their already demonstrated capabilities. The opposition to the requirement for these tests was loud and continuous, and not just from drivers.

PMTC members, and fleets across the province lost some of their better drivers – many with unblemished driving records – who refused to participate in what they considered to be a demeaning, arbitrary, and unnecessary test. The other side of the argument was statistical.

The numbers showed that there is an increase in driving-related incidents after the age of 65, but that didn’t wash with these drivers or their employers.

Finally, after lengthy consultations, the Ministry acknowledged that changes were in order and announced them earlier this year. Essentially the industry got what it asked for with testing moved from an annual requirement to every five years for most drivers aged 65-79. The Ministry also adopted the recommendation that an individual’s driving record should be the determining factor as to whether interim road tests would be required.

On another front, the Ministry moved to expand the LCV program, an initiative that has proven to be safe, effective and efficient. The expansion added more carriers and provided additional permits for carriers that have operated successfully for at least one year.

This was also welcome news to an industry that had invested much time and energy, not to mention money, in the start-up pilot program. In expanding the program the Ministry recognized the benefits that were being achieved, not only to the trucking community, but to Ontario’s manufacturers.

More recently, and again after industry consultation, the Ministry released Phase 1 of its New Entrant Education and Evaluation Program (NEEP) for new CVOR holders. In our view, this is an idea whose time has come. Titled Commercial Vehicle Operators’ Safety Manual, the guide is available on the MTO Web site and we recommend that all fleet operators take a few minutes to review it.

While it is primarily aimed at new entrants to the industry, it can also be considered a refresher course for experienced hands. The guide contains several modules, each dealing with a specific topic.

The publication of the guide represents the completion of the first part of the NEEP concept, and further development is expected to include a study guide and a proficiency test that new entrants will be required to pass prior to receiving a CVOR. This is due in 2013. It’s a great idea that will help new entrants prepare for their role and responsibilities in the trucking industry.

Ontario also announced that as of May 1, 2012, all applicants attempting a Class A (Class 1 in other jurisdictions) road test are permitted to use a vehicle with an automatic transmission, and upon passing the test they will have a full privilege licence. This is a nod to the emerging popularity of automatic transmissions among fleet operators and drivers alike. Perhaps it is the future of trucking, and if so we applaud MTO for forward thinking.

Lastly, the three-year exemption for the use of handheld two-way radios was set to expire Jan. 1, 2013. The idea behind the three-year exemption was to allow the industry to catch up, if you will, and develop a viable hands-free option.

MTO has recognized that the marketplace has not developed the envisioned alternative to the hand-held, and rather than forcing an untenable situation the Ministry is seeking input on the idea of a further extension of this exemption, which PMTC will happily support.

All this to say that Ontario’s Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli and his staff have taken bold steps in a short period of time to address a few of the issues that the trucking community has discussed (and complained about) for some time and they are to be congratulated.

Each of these moves is an example of how effective consultation between government and industry can be, a co-operative approach yielding benefits.

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