PIC back on track?

by James Menzies

EDMONTON, Alta. – When the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) stopped administering Alberta’s Partners in Compliance (PIC) program in 2003, it said there simply wasn’t a big enough carrot for participating carriers.

“We thought the program had great value but unfortunately, after eight years, we were not successful in creating any benefits that would encourage participation,” former AMTA executive director, Kim Royal said at the time. “Unless there was a carrot, it was very hard to get anybody to participate.”

PIC was quietly discarded, but rescued from the trash by a handful of carriers who were determined to see the program resurrected – with or without the AMTA.

It appears their efforts are paying off as the groundwork has been laid for a revised PIC program. A number of carriers have been working with Alberta Transportation to address the previous program’s shortcomings and to re-launch the safety initiative that rewards carriers who comply with a strict safety regime and assess their own performances.

“We’ve pretty much re-engineered the entire program,” says Roger Clarke, executive director of vehicle safety and carrier services with Alberta Transportation. “There were problems in the original design that we recognized…It was frankly a little report-heavy and we have managed to re-engineer it and provide a simpler program.”

Don Bietz, chief operating officer of Economy Carriers, says the new PIC program will be less onerous for carriers to enter. It will also finally deliver that sought-after carrot, by allowing participating carriers to bypass provincial scales. Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) technology will be imbedded in the highways near scales and PIC carriers will have their trucks equipped with transponders that allow them to pass by without stopping.

That benefit was the main attraction for previous PIC participants but it never did materialize during the last version of the program. The scale bypass component of the program is “absolutely integral,” stresses Bietz. “That’s the incentive for the trucking side.” (The program is also open to motor coach operators).

“If (the carriers) get bypass, what they told me is that’s huge – they can measure that and then they know the value of the program and it will at least offset the cost they incur as a result of being a participating carrier,” Clarke says.

One of the main costs incurred by carriers will be the transponder rental, but the increased productivity resulting from the scale bypass component of the program is expected to provide a quantifiable return on investment. PIC is a carrier-driven program and was not intended to be run by government, Clarke says. He’s been impressed with the commitment of Alberta carriers who have been committed to re-launching the program.

“When we asked carriers if they wanted to continue with PIC, it was unanimous in spite of the fact we lost our managing partner (the AMTA) at the time,” he says. “They all wanted to proceed but at the same time, they said ‘Let’s fix it.’ We knew there were things that needed to improve.”

But while many of the program’s previous flaws have been addressed, some questions about PIC still remain. Such as: Who exactly is going to administer the program?

The AMTA has been represented throughout the planning stages but it remains to be seen whether or not the association will play an active role. Clarke suggests the program may be better off if it’s run as an independent entity.

“We’re not closing the door on anything,” stresses Clarke. “Certainly the AMTA is interested and has been present at meetings and we’ve been advised they are supportive and glad to see things are moving along. Whether nor not they are an administrator or a partner remains to be seen. It could even have a new look where PIC is a separate entity but shares resources. I think there’s a need for some independence and the carriers feel that too, but if there’s a way to share resources and even staff, that might be something both groups want to consider,” he adds.

The other major detail that hasn’t yet been fully hammered out is who will fund the program. Bietz says the new PIC will be self-sustainable (funded largely through transponder rentals), but the provincial government will be asked to kick in some start-up funding. The province will also be responsible for providing the required AVI technology.

It’s important that the government is an active partner in the program, because it has a vested interest in supporting the initiative as the overall result will be improved highway safety, Bietz stresses.

PIC’s rebirth may be just around the corner, Bietz says (carrier representatives were hoping to meet with Alberta Transportation officials in February). But just how successful the new PIC is depends on how carriers respond to the improvements.

“We sure hope there’s more carrier involvement. The success of the program will depend on getting more carriers on-board,” he says.

Clarke agrees: “We see the vision and believe in it and there’s definitely a spot for carrier excellence and carriers that choose to make business decisions based on safety,” he says. “It’s perhaps not for everybody but there are carriers that want to make that commitment and we think we need a program to support that approach…because it allows us to concentrate on those carriers that don’t make that same effort.”

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.