Public misconception

by Derek Clouthier

WINNIPEG, Man. — A group of panelists from inside and outside of the industry questioned the general public’s perception of trucking during a discussion about image.

Held during the Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA) annual AGM April 6 in Winnipeg, Man., panelist Reg Wightman of the province’s Motor Carrier Division said he reads about the new technologies and safety initiatives within the industry in trade magazines, but does not get the sense that the general public is aware of these efforts.

“It’s not the attention grabber,” said Wightman. “I don’t think the public has the proper perception of what this industry is all about.”

Ward Keith of Manitoba Public Insurance agreed, saying, “I don’t think there’s a good enough understanding of how complex this business is and how complicated it is…how technologically advanced the trucks are.”

Keith added that most, if not all, carriers are receptive to suggestions on how to improve safety and preventative maintenance, as well as how to build safety into the culture of their respective businesses, which feeds into the industry being safer and in turn leads to creating a safer image.

Richard Cloutier, a journalist with Global News and 680 CJOB, said when it comes to the industry dealing with the media, the key is to be as honest and transparent
as possible.

“I think the industry’s image is pretty darn good here, as compared to maybe in Southern Ontario,” Cloutier said. “But that can be destroyed in a minute if there’s an incident.”

Cloutier said in today’s 24-7 news cycle, the trucking industry must make itself available at all times and realize that it is not the 99% of safe drivers who get media attention, but rather the 1% who “screw things up for you.”

From a business perspective, Bruce Duggan, Buller School of Business at Providence University College, said, “It costs less to be safe than it does to be dangerous.”

Thinking long term, Duggan pointed to lower insurance premiums and minimal maintenance and fleet replacement costs as areas where carriers will see the financial benefits of making safety a top priority.

Duggan said there is a lot of data available on the public’s perception of trucking and, “surprisingly,” it is mostly positive.

“Most people are skeptical of many big businesses,” he said, “but that doesn’t seem to be the case for trucking.”

Duggan advised attendees that every business should have one person who answers to the media, and that person should be someone with good communication skills and not necessarily the company CEO.

MTA executive director Terry Shaw said the industry’s image has evolved over time with the introduction of new technologies, numerous safety measures, and mandatory driver training.

He added that though the MTA does not consider itself to be overly environmentally conscious, its continued focus on efficiency produces the same result.

“That focus on fuel efficiency has massive environmental benefit, and we are as efficient as we can be,” said Shaw. “We can’t purchase any less efficient technology right now, and I don’t know if the general public understands that.”

Game changers
A second panel addressed industry game changers over the last few years, with Rob Penner of Bison Transport saying his company looks for technologies that make the business better, not necessarily easier.

“Any support technologies that we can possibly find to protect the driver, those would be the technologies that we would really focus on,” Penner said. “Inside of our office it’s about information, finding ways to make the business transparent to everybody so that they can quickly see what they are looking at today.”

Bill Friesen of Keystone Western said customer support is vital.

“We’re prepared that when phone calls come in we can assist people at all times of the day,” he said. “We never just leave them out there to figure it out.”

And though Thomas McKee of Payne Transportation feels today’s youth are well positioned to enter the industry having grown up with technology and adaptable to change, Brent Arnold of Arnold Bros. Transport believes more can be done to specifically tailor students to enter the trucking industry.

Arnold added that today’s younger generations should be wary of what they post on social media.

“The school system can do a much better job educating young people with appropriate use of social media,” he said. “What is acceptable and unacceptable, the value of social media, and what the dangers are.”

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