Late in 2008 the Auditor General of Ontario released his annual report, a document of some 500 pages that reviewed a host of programs including the Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement program.
The entire audit report can be viewed at www.auditor.on.ca,but most readers of this magazine will be interested in Chapter 3, which contains comments on the aforementioned commercial vehicle program.
The report’s disclaimer states that the objective of the audit was to assess whether the Ministry had adequate monitoring and enforcement systems in place to ensure that commercial vehicles are operated safely. In order to do this, the auditors reviewed such data as operators’ safety records, attended facility audits and safety blitzes, visited roadside inspection stations and interviewed Ministry staff; a fairly comprehensive approach.
In this column I’ve summarized a few of the auditor’s key points, and included some of my observations on his recommendations.
The collision rate on Ontario’s roads declined by 10% over the past decade, and the number of fatalities also declined. That’s the good news. However, the percentage of collisions involving commercial vehicles rose slightly to 9.2% over the same period. This, the auditor suggests, indicates that the province has been more successful in improving passenger vehicle safety than that of commercial vehicles.
I think there are probably many reasons for the increase in collisions involving commercial vehicles other than the one suggested by the auditor. They would include ever-increasing traffic congestion and deteriorating road conditions, but we won’t be argumentative – the numbers are what they are.
Of greater concern to us are the report’s sections on facility audits and roadside inspections.
According to the auditor, the number of facility audits declined by 34% since the 2003/2004 fiscal year; facility audits that were required by policy for high-risk operators were cancelled without a good reason; inspections declined in number; and few inspections were conducted at night, even though 21% of commercial trips occur at that time.
These are issues that seem to point to either an issue with the availability of Ministry resources (specifically a lack thereof) or the manner in which those resources were deployed during the period.
With regard to facility audits, in addition to the decline of 34% in the numbers, there is a concern with their timing. The Ministry’s own guidelines call for such audits to be completed within 90 days of a carrier being flagged by the CVOR system, but on average it took 230 days and 67% of audits were not completed by the due date.
Additionally, two-thirds of the 740 operators identified by the system as requiring an audit were dismissed by MTO staff. A review of a limited number of those cancelled audits indicated that 50% of them should have been conducted.
If the facility audit system is to have any real meaning, MTO must have the resources and the resolve to conduct them in a timely manner when the system identifies a need.
The number of roadside inspections also declined. In 2007/08 field enforcement officers conducted some 99,000 roadside inspections, while in 2003/04 the number of inspections was about 140,000. That represents a significant erosion of an effective tool for finding unsafe vehicles and drivers in only a few years. The Ministry responded to this issue by stating that it is developing a plan to identify and assign road inspection resources, and that it has hired 50 new enforcement officers to ensure that more roadside inspections take place. Additionally, the Ministry said that all officers and supervisors will be subject to new performance standards, although a similar commitment was made by the Ministry following the 1997 audit.
The potential for a roadside inspection is all that keeps some operators on the straight and narrow and we view it as essential that the Ministry follows through with its intended action.
On another safety-related note, the auditor observed that Ontario’s CVOR system did not include a process for renewing certificates, thus making it difficult to ascertain how many operators are actually in business, and impossible to verify the information on record for those that are still in business. This called into question the usefulness of the CVOR system in identifying high-risk operators, one of the principal objectives of the program.
As readers know by now, following consultation with the industry the Ministry announced a CVOR renewal program in December of 2008 and we all expect that this will improve that situation considerably. At a minimum, the requirement to renew will update the existing records, eliminate from the system carriers that have left the business and over time help identify carriers that have never bothered to register.The Ministry deserves kudos for having taken this action.
There are more observations and recommendations in the report and it is well worth a read. The Ministry’s responses acknowledge the auditor’s concerns, but addressing them will require both resources and the will to do so.
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