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PIC gets a new lease on life

LEDUC, Alta. - After a little more than a year of restructuring and fine-tuning, the redeveloped Partners In Compliance (PIC) program was launched in Alberta in mid-June, offering participating carrie...


LEDUC, Alta. – After a little more than a year of restructuring and fine-tuning, the redeveloped Partners In Compliance (PIC) program was launched in Alberta in mid-June, offering participating carriers savings of nearly $3,000 per truck each year.

Safer highways and the smoother movement of transport cargo are the goals of a new partnership between the Alberta government and transport companies in the province. Commercial carriers with exemplary safety records can save time and money, by utilizing an automated system which allows them to bypass Alberta’s 12 vehicle inspection stations.

“Allowing members of the Partners In Compliance program to bypass inspection stations means that more time is spent on commercial carriers that may not be in compliance with provincial regulations,” said Luke Ouellette, Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation.

Transportation firms participating in the PIC program are fitted with an automated vehicle identification system that identifies the carrier and issues bypass signals as they travel past the province’s weigh stations.

When a PIC carrier drives by an inspection station, a roadside wireless detector – situated 500 metres from the station – reads the in-cab transponder and the equipment inside the station identifies the truck’s serial number and licence plate and also displays a picture of the vehicle. A green light will illuminate on the truck’s transponder and the driver can continue down the main thoroughfare without stopping or even slowing down.

Most of the cost of the $2.5 million program was covered by the provincial government, with the federal government contributing $290,000.

In addition, the province has also purchased a thermal imagining unit for $400,000, which will give weigh stations the ability to monitor trucks for overweight cargo, faulty brakes, flat or low tires, and overheated brakes.

“PIC, the AMTA and my department have worked well together and we need to keep working together because we all share the same goal, which is excellence in safety,” said Ouellette. “These initiatives go a long way in supporting traffic safety.”

As part of the public-private partnership, the provincial government is supplying the infrastructure for the automated vehicle identification system and working independently from the government, the industry administers the transponder program.

The transponder itself is about the size of a Blackberry device and is mounted directly on a truck’s windshield. The wireless transponder contains a battery with a six-year operating life and is designed to operate effectively in temperatures ranging from – 40 C to 85 C.

A green light on the transponder will indicate to the vehicle’s operator to bypass the weigh station, while no signal on the transponder means the driver must pull into the weigh station.

PIC carriers will be allowed to bypass the weigh station 98% of the time, which is estimated to save $2,800 per vehicle in travel time and fuel consumption, based on 300 trips per year. The other 2% of the time, PIC carriers will be randomly selected to stop at the weigh station when requested. This small sample is what the self-administered program calls, “trust with certification.”

“One concern with the system was with possible abuse, but the officers have the ability to chase down vehicles and we can always up the random if we get reports of abuse,” noted Lane Kranenburg, director of the PIC program. “It’s by no means a free pass.”

The transponder technology is not unique in Alberta, as other jurisdictions have put it to use, but Alberta is the first province to administer a province-wide program.

“This is a great thing and we appreciate as an industry the government’s participation in this program,” said Mayne Root, executive director of the AMTA. “It’s needed and will help our industry and our province. There’s been lots of interest from other jurisdictions and even into the US, looking for a program like this, so I can see it expanding.”

The AMTA could provide helpful advice to other jurisdictions looking to adopt a similar program, as the association had to work through a number of hurdles since the PIC program’s initial launch in 1996.

Carriers participating in the program were looking for more of a return on their time and investment as PIC members. The AMTA eventually parted ways with the program in 2003, turning administration duties over to Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation.

With the hiring of Kranenburg in February 2006, the AMTA re-aligned itself with the program. The program’s director has spent a little more than a year fine-tuning the program and initiating incentives to make the program more attractive to carriers.

One of the new features is the automated vehicle identification technology, which allows the carriers to bypass weigh stations in Alberta. Another new feature of the program is a less cumbersome reporting process. Previously carriers were required to report monthly to the PIC program to ensure all safety systems were running up-to-date. The reporting process will now be conducted quarterly; as well the reporting process will be done electronically, doing away with reams of monthly paperwork.

“The quarterly reports ensure they are within the guidelines and if they’re not I work with them to bring them back in, or they can be suspended,” noted Kranenburg.

There are currently 14 trucking companies enrolled in the program and four bus companies. By the end of June, an estimated 1,200 transponders will be outfitted in trucks travelling through Alberta.

“About 10 more companies have applied and we’re doing the due diligence right now,” explained Kranenburg. “There’s a minimum of 30 days. When an application comes in, we review the documents to ensure everything is in order, and then we interview the safety officer and the principals of the company. Sometimes it can take longer depending on how everyone’s reacting, it has taken up to 90 days in some instances.”

The cost to owners is a licence plate cost of $7, which is a one-time fee. The transponder is a $70 per truck fee each year.

“They may ask if you’re getting your money’s worth and the answer is, yes,” noted Nick Smolley, safety advisor with Carmacks Enterprises. “The requirements for the program are the minimum safety requirements required by law. It’s ensuring it’s monitored and maintained on a regular basis.”

Carmacks has been involved in the PIC program since its initial launch back in 1996 and was the first construction company to become a member. The Nisku, Alta.-based company has 88 trucks in its fleet and primarily works on Alberta’s highway system doing road building, paving and chip sealing.

“We got in because we wanted to ensure every possible angle of safety was being covered, including fatigue management and hours-of-service. PIC is a program that puts it all together in one package,” Smolley said. “I sat in on the committee when it was getting restructured. Carriers had some issues with having better value, so when they came out with the transponder system and quarterly reporting it wasn’t as onerous.”

Smolley noted the re-emergence of the program is a great value to the industry and also gives carriers an opportunity to monitor and implement safety initiatives on an ongoing basis. At the Leduc weigh station, officers will inspect anywhere from eight to 1,000 commercial vehicles per day. By removing PIC carriers from the off-ramp it will allow the inspection officers to concentrate their efforts on trucks which may be a safety risk.

Removing the driver from the high traffic area also provides an added safety bonus to carriers.

“When you see all the trucks lined up to get into a scale, if 98% of your trucks can go past it, you remove your drivers from a high traffic area,” explained Smolley. “The fewer changes you have while driving, the fewer opportunities for incidents.”


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