Rogue Truckers And Shippers Continue To Make Life Difficult For Credible Carriers (February 01, 2010)
February 1, 2010
LANGLEY, B.C. - Times are tough in the trucking industry, with hot competition and a cool economy. Making things worse are carriers who toss safety concerns aside to snag gigs from shippers whose focu...
LANGLEY, B.C. –Times are tough in the trucking industry, with hot competition and a cool economy. Making things worse are carriers who toss safety concerns aside to snag gigs from shippers whose focus on the bottom line trumps everything.
It’s an issue that was raised by the CBC in a report that shone a light on a B.C.-based trucking company the CBC says had its safety certificates pulled due to problems such as drivers faking logbooks and working too many hours. According to the report, while some of the carrier’s operations were indeed shut down, other companies under its umbrella continued operating.
Paul Landry, executive director of the BCTA, won’t comment on specific companies or decisions, but he does admit to hearing carriers report situations similar to what the CBC dug up.
“Generally speaking,” he says, “we see some evidence that there are problems in the industry and, as with the cockroach theory, if you see one, there are probably many others.”
Roger Clarke, executive director of vehicle safety and carrier services for Alberta Transportation agrees. “I believe (every jurisdiction) is in the same boat,” he says, stressing that Alberta does its best to monitor all truck and bus operators, “especially those who’ve been made conditional or put out of business for being poor safety risks.” They can’t be everywhere at once, though.
Clarke says the trick is to match the names of applicants with existing records of who has been put out of business or is on the list of risky carriers.
“When it’s verified that these are the same principals,” Clarke says, “our staff jump in and flag it. If it’s one who has been made conditional, we can make that new applicant conditional as well.”
In turn, he says, if the applicant has been deemed unsatisfactory previously, “the option is there to just deny the application.”
Clarke admits it can be particularly challenging when a friend or family member of an operator who has been put out of business applies for a certificate.
“As long as they’ve met the requirements of the various jurisdictions -safety plans and the routine stuff they need -all they really have to do is show us they understand the safety rules and have good equipment and good drivers and they’re in business.”
Government can help keep operators on the straight and narrow in other ways, too, says the BCTA’s Landry.
“It’s always been our view that the National Safety Code needs to be aggressively enforced,” he says, “and a level playing field created for those carriers who work hard to hire the right drivers, maintain their equipment and put in place safety programs that ensure that whatever they do is done safely and responsibly.”
Landry says his organization, in concert with the provincial government, is also looking at possible improvements to the National Safety Code.
“The threshold for intervention could be lowered,” he says, “so carriers who are running into problems receive warning letters earlier, are interviewed earlier, are audited earlier that they are today.”
He also suggests that enforcement officers could follow up immediately when they spot equipment where “clearly there is no interest in maintaining the vehicle according to the standards. If you see a vehicle like that on the road, maybe you shouldn’t wait for a whole series of points to be developed to go and see that carrier.”
An owner who’s slack when it comes to equipment may be just as casual about the people driving it, too. “If you don’t care that your tires are cut, that there are cracks in the frame of your vehicle or your brakes are out of adjustment,” Landry says, “then why would you care about what the driver’s record is or monitoring Hours-of-Service or anything else?”
As far as the BCTA is concerned, “We take high road positions on safety,” Landry stresses. “We support speed limiters, electric onboard recorders for monitoring Hours-of-Service, and we have a code of conduct,” he says. “So while it may be naive, we would hope that a carrier joining the BCTA knows what we stand for and that, by joining, subscribes to our standards.”
Landry thinks most members pay attention to all aspects of the business, and while the association does have mechanisms in place where action can be taken if there is evidence of carriers who flout the law, “It’s not a matter of just throwing carriers out,” he says. “There has to be some sort of due process.”
Some carriers do apparently think it pays to cut corners so they can offer rates substantially lower than the competition through lower operating costs brought about by ignoring or minimizing maintenance, driver standards, Hours-of-Service, etc.
“I think, ultimately, people who operate companies like that may derive some benefit,” Landry admits. “But it’s really at the expense of the public, other carriers and perhaps their own employees.”
Then there are the people who hire such carriers.
“In some cases, shippers have been offered rates that are 20-30% or more below the market rate,” Landry says, “and in a case like that, a shipper should ask itself how the carrier is able to do that.”
He mentions a carrier whose shipper told him recently the competition had offered to do the same work for 38% less.
“The carrier thought about it and decided he might be able to offer a small reduction,” Landry says, “but 38? He parked his truck. It’s pointless. All he can do is scratch his head and leave the business.” Landry wouldn’t name names, but says the shipper was a high-profile company in Canada.
“I hear these stories all too often,” he says, “and it’s just a grinding process. Our industry is very competitive and there are some carriers that operate good, safe, solid businesses and have very sharp pencils and can offer reasonable rates. But there’s a point which you just cannot go below and have safe equipment and safe drivers. I think the shippers really need to seriously look at that.”
According to Clarke, that’s what happens in Alberta. “It used to be that if you had a conditional rating people would say ‘Who cares’?” he says. “But now, shippers are saying they want to see a carrier’s safety rating. They don’t want to be caught up in some web of suits and whatever, and insurance companies are telling carriers to show them their profiles as well.”
Technology and data sharing are also helping keep carriers honest. “I think every jurisdiction has a pretty good monitoring system,” Clarke says, “and when carriers get put out of business or made conditional in one jurisdiction, then think they’re going to hop across the border and start up again, they’re finding that we’re communicating and sending over the profile information.”
Voluntary programs such as Alberta’s Partners in Compliance also help, allowing the government to target its limited resources more effectively.
“When you think about it, there are something like 25,000 carriers of various sizes just in Alberta,” Clarke says.
“And if you have 10% of them that really do a bang-up job managing their own safety -very proactive in their approach to the point where they can get an excellent rating as we do for PIC carriers -we can devote our officers’ and administrative staff’s time to monitoring those that need a little more watching. So PIC pays off for government in that respect.”
Clarke also points out that each jurisdiction has a carrier profile that includes information on any tickets, violations, CVSA problems, collisions, and audits, “and it doesn’t usually take long for a poor operator to show up on your system. We have an algorithm to say when somebody’s had so many events that they should be a concern, and every jurisdiction has that in place.”
On the other hand, “If somebody wants to game the system they’ll find a way to get a license,” Clarke admits.
The BCTA wants to help ensure that happens as little as possible. “We’re talking about enacting membership standards,” Landry says, “so that if a particular trucking company wants to join the BCTA, we
would ask some questions regarding the company’s interest and activities pertaining to safe operations.”
All these strategies can undoubtedly help, but what’s really required is for the slackers and the shippers who hire them to pay attention.
‘In some cases, shippers have been offered rates that are 20-30% or more below the market rate.’