Push for ratings continues: ‘Devil’s in the details’

by Matthew Sylvain

OTTAWA, Ont. – After being slammed in a recent report for failing once again to meet a self-imposed deadline to adopt a Canada-wide safety ratings system for commercial vehicle operators, many jurisdictions continue to promise they’ll soon toe the federal line.

A proposed December deadline will come and go, like others before it. The next deadline of any kind is the end of March.

“There is a push on right now to get things done,” says Brain Orrbine, Transport Canada’s senior policy advisor on motor carrier issues. Orrbine says that Ottawa offered $7 million in funding last March to help implement or improve the bureaucracy required to bring the different systems in line.

“The work has to be completed by the end of March in order to be eligible for the funds,” he says.

“Well it’s a very complex business,” adds Derek Sweet, Director of Road Safety at Transport Canada, explaining why the December deadline won’t be reached. “We’ve got 12 jurisdictions implementing a system that’s not simple, and it requires a fair amount of systems work and a fair amount of developmental work.

“A year ago we thought that we might all be there by December 2000, but that’s proving not to be the case, and I don’t think anybody’s too surprised by that. The important thing is that the provinces have all bought into the concept of safety ratings and they’re all working diligently doing what has to be done.”

In August, transportation consultant Fred Nix released a report for a project group of the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators that showed many of the 12 provinces and territories were failing to adopt procedures for consistently rating carriers. This is particularly odd considering the standard is supposed to be set up so that carriers with similar performance records receive similar ratings, said Nix, noting that “consistency” is a basic principle of the process.

The CCMTA-a group of bureaucrats and other affected groups-is charged with defining the system’s benchmarks.

A carrier’s safety rating is similar to a student’s report card. It is meant to reflect an individual company’s safety performance in comparison to other companies, regardless of its location in Canada, just as a student’s report card is meant to reflect how he or she is doing academically in comparison to other students, regardless of classroom.

The question of when such a carrier report card will become a reality is the great unknown.

“We’re moving as quickly as we can. I’m convinced that all the jurisdictions are doing pretty much all they can to move along. We haven’t revised any D-day yet,” Sweet says. “The next report suggests it might take some time. I’m hopeful that we can move quickly on this but on the other hand I’m not underestimating the challenge.”

For carriers exhibiting similar performances to net similar ratings, “you have to ensure the information is shared and you’ve got to ensure that the protocols and methodologies are reasonably similar,” says Sweet.

Critical to that system is the transmission of data, he says, adding that the provinces and territories “are all busy at work building the system in order to do this.”

“The devil’s in the detail – that’s the long and the short of it,” says Chris Brant of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

“It’s all well and good to say we’re going to have harmonized systems, but you want to make sure it’s fair and equitable. And once you get into the details of a file that’s this complex, it tends to take some time.”

In his opinion, all the jurisdictions are making considerable headway, and remain committed to the project, “notwithstanding the frustrations of trying to pull this together.”

“We’re all working to have systems in place; we’re shooting for systems where we can be exchanging information, through the CCMTA, by the end of March,” he says.

“Now there is a lot of modeling to do to assess the impact, but the mechanism for exchanging data is being worked on and I see progress there.”

“B.C. is developing the processes and systems,” assures Rick Caulfield of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, which oversees commercial vehicle safety in that province. “We are doing this in compliance with Standards 14 and 15 and we intend to be ready to rate the carriers by March 31, 2001.”

“Nix has identified that Quebec, Ontario and Alberta were the farthest along in terms of the developments, so things are going well out here,” says Alberta Infrastructure’s Mitch Fuhr.

But the province has some “large issues,” says Fuhr, who is director of carrier services for that province. One of Alberta’s beefs with the proposed standard is the vehicle-weight threshold.

For the longest time, that province has operated with a threshold of 18,000 kg-detailing vehicles weighing at least that much-but to meet the letter of National Safety Standard 14, it must now drop the threshold to 4,500 kg.

“So we’ve done some public consultation in regards to that and are talking to other jurisdictions in terms of lowering our threshold so that we’re more in synch with the rest of the country.”

Another formidable problem for Alberta is the sharing of collision data. “We’re actually prohibited by law right now from exchanging it (with other provinces), so we have an amendment coming into a new act, but we’re awaiting a proclamation date,” says Fuhr.

“I think what people tend to forget is that it’s an enormously complex task,” adds Ontario’s Brant, noting, “We’re talking about the safety regimes of 12 different jurisdictions, (that have) matured and evolved independently of one another for the last 50 years, in some cases.”

“I know it may appear frustrating to the outsider, but there are enormous systems implications, there are different approaches, different legislative requirements, there are legislative impediments, in some cases. None of that is insurmountable. But it does take some time,” he says.

Transport Canada’s Sweet noted that the U.S. system, which governs commercial-vehicle operators based in 50 jurisdictions, is uniform but also fluid. “They are constantly fine-tuning their system as well. I only point that out to indicate that the world keeps changing.”

Sweet says there are amendments being proposed to Canada’s Motor Vehicle Transport Act. “The bill has been introduced. But the legislative process hasn’t been completed yet. There is no particular deadline attached to that,” he says.

It’s simply a matter of waiting.n

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