Private Links: It’s not about numbers, it’s about effectiveness

by Bruce Richards

A recent article in the Toronto Star quoting the president of the union representing Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation workers, gave the clear impression that road safety in the province is at risk because the Ministry has not replaced some 70 truck inspectors lost to attrition over the years.

The article quoted the union president as saying the province is trying to download the cost of truck inspections onto municipalities by having police do the work. An OPP sergeant jumped into the fray saying that its force cannot do more inspections.

Some Private Motor Truck Council (PMTC) members expressed their concerns. The annual RoadCheck numbers, while admittedly not a clear indicator of the state of truck safety, do indicate a positive trend in the proportion of vehicles and drivers that pass inspections. This positive trend, our members conjecture, is due in part at least to the potential for being inspected and facing penalties for inadequately maintained vehicles or drivers that don’t follow the hours-of-service rules or maintain their logs.

Our members believe that if the potential for being inspected is even part of the reason for the steady improvement in the CVSA inspection results, then cutting back on the number of inspectors or inspections is not on.

We approached the Ministry for its perspective on the story, which it provided, along with statistics to support its position.

The Ministry reported that over the past four years the number of inspectors has ranged from a low of 266 to a high of 306. Over that same period the number of Level 1 and Level 3 inspections performed ranged from 94,179 to 146,611.

Further, the productivity of inspectors has steadily increased over that same period. For example, in the 2001/2002 fiscal year, 306 inspectors conducted 94,179 inspections, for an average of 307 per inspector. That was the year that the number of inspectors was at its zenith for the four-year period that we reviewed.

By comparison, in the 2004/2005 fiscal year 266 inspectors performed 142,538 inspections for an average of 536 per inspector – a definite improvement in both total inspections and in individual productivity.

The increases in the total number of inspections and in the average number per inspector were not a one-time blip. In that same four-year period the number of inspections rose steadily (with a slight decrease in 2003/2004) and the output per inspector rose dramatically.

So who is right? The union feels that road safety could be compromised because of a reduction in the number of inspectors, but the Ministry indicates that more inspections are being done with fewer inspectors.

The real issue, as PMTC has maintained for many years, is making the truck inspection program more effective. That may mean recognizing that there is a limit to the benefits of having inspectors constrained to working out of truck inspection stations. Such a system means inspectors are spending too much time with the vehicles of carriers that are known to be satisfactory or even excellent – inspection time that would be better used on carriers that are operating on the fringe.

How the effectiveness of its inspectors can be increased is a question that will be examined as part of the review of the truck inspection program that MTO is undertaking, a review that a Ministry spokesperson confirmed in the Toronto Star article.

PMTC believes the Ministry should seriously consider de-emphasizing the truck inspection station style of inspection in favour of increasing the mobility of its inspection teams.

As we’ve said, the fixed inspection station system results in a disproportioned number of inspections of our better carriers, because those carriers use the lanes where the inspection stations are located. Conversely, there are a number of carriers that are not regularly exposed to inspections simply because they do not venture near these stations.

That is not to dismiss the value of the inspection stations entirely – they provide a deterrent and they are located on prime truck routes. But in our view, a more mobile force of inspectors could accomplish much more.

A more mobile force could, for example, emphasize facility audits of new carriers, fringe carriers, or carriers whose CVOR status indicates the need for a visit. That, along with mobile on-road inspection teams operating away from the fixed inspection stations, would make the entire truck inspection program much more effective.

Let’s hope the Ministry’s review of the program will incorporate some of these ideas.

And on a final note, Ingrid Phaneuf, executive editor of this magazine has moved on to a position with the Canadian Trucking Alliance. We enjoyed working with Ingrid and we wish her all the best.

– The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. This column presents opinions on trucking issues from the perspective of private carriers. Comments can be addressed to

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