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RTAC Attack

CALGARY, Alta. - New regulations forcing some trailers to be taken off Alberta's roads will be burdensome for many of the province's smaller operators, according to the Alberta Construction Trucking A...

CALGARY, Alta. –New regulations forcing some trailers to be taken off Alberta’s roads will be burdensome for many of the province’s smaller operators, according to the Alberta Construction Trucking Association (ACTA) and the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA).

ACTA president Ron Singer says the anticipated 2011 deadline requiring trailers to comply with RTAC standards is one of the most important issues on his desk currently.

“This is really going to hurt the users of these trailers because after 2010 they’ll not only be unable to use them, but they won’t be able to sell them either since they’ll be virtually useless. It’s a very bad scenario.”

It isn’t a huge issue for most transport carriers, according to Mayne Root, executive director of the AMTA, but it has “a huge effect on construction truckers and people hauling anhydrous ammonia who use the trailers only for short periods of the year.”

And though these trailers may be old enough that they pre-date the RTAC standard, “they often don’t have a lot of miles on them.”

The national RTAC standard covers such parameters as roll resistance, sway factor, vehicle length, weight and height, supposedly to ensure fewer issues from province to province. Singer notes that “some trailers didn’t met the new standards back then, and some trucking associations told the provincial government these particular units would expire within 10 years or so.”

Singer says that led the province of Alberta to decree that, as of 2011, use of the units in question would be restricted by reducing their gross vehicle axle weights progressively.

Alberta is allowing anhydrous ammonia trailers to be grandfathered, according to Root, so they can be used until they wear out, but construction truckers will find their trailers’ capacity reduced by 1,000 kg per year until it’s no longer viable financially.

This promises to be especially tough on smaller operators who use such trailers to haul gravel in the warm months, after which they sit idle for the rest of the year. Root says these operators want to see their trailers -which they bought in good faith before the RTAC standard existed -grandfathered as well.

Otherwise, says the ACTA’s Singer, “it’s like taking money out of (our members’) pockets.”

Root acknowledges that companies have had 10 years’ notice to upgrade their trailers but “their profit margin is small enough that to spend that kind of money will put them in the hole. It isn’t that they mind replacing the trailers when the time comes, but the trailers are still operable.”

There’s also the issue of fairness between provinces. Root says Alberta carriers are being singled out unfairly because the non-compliant trailers are being grandfathered in British Columbia and Saskatchewan and that will make Alberta’s operators uncompetitive in those provinces.

The ACTA has reached out to the Alberta government already. “We told them we have all kinds of these units still in use,” Singer says, “and it doesn’t make financial sense in an economic time like now, especially for older members, to sell off their old equipment and buy a new one to only use for maybe a few years before they retire.”

Singer’s hopeful they can make their case to Alberta Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette. “We have a really good minister in Alberta,” he acknowledges. “But I don’t think he understands how this issue is going to affect the construction trucking industry.”

Singer says Ouellette appears to be following the lead of his people, who he says are looking at the technical data but not taking into account the practical, real-world implications.

“We’ll also be approaching the engineer in charge of this for the province,” he says, “because it’s too important an issue and there are so many operators out there who aren’t even aware that their equipment isn’t going to be allowed -and will, in fact, be worthless.”

The ACTA and AMTA are cooperating on a proposal to put before the provincial government that they hope will address the situation. One of the associations’ aces in the hole may be the fact that these non-compliant trailers haven’t been safety concerns in the past.

“Some think that because they’re usually short wheelbase trailers their stability to tip isn’t up to standard,” Root says. “But these gravel trucks aren’t loaded high and stability shouldn’t be a major issue.”

He says one of the major points they’ll stress to the government will be the effect on the smaller operators. “And maybe we’ll look at controlling cheating,” he says, referring to some carriers who have rebuilt their old trailers into as-new condition. “So that if there’s an issue with a particular carrier we can address it individually.”

As far as the provincial government is concerned, it appears to be the cheaters who ruined it for the rest. Alberta Transportation spokesperson Trent Bancarz says the province “tried to be accommodating” and had been willing to grandfather the trailers but “unfortunately, some people chose to literally rebuild their old trailers from scratch, to the point where the only thing left from the original was the serial number. So we put the sunset clause in to curb that practice.”

Bancarz says the province’s goal was to get the improved trailers into service and to encourage safer vehicles.

“We don’t want to put people out of business,” he says, “but we’re trying to have as safe and efficient vehicles on the road as we can get.”

He says he’s also aware that some operators have trailers that aren’t used often, and so they’re still in good shape. “That’s a tricky one for us,” Bancarz admits. “When the dimensions were changed in 1993, we originally grandfathered anything built before then. And since these trailers have a life span of 12-15 years we kind of expected that all the old trailers would be gone.”

The bottom line for the province is that, while it would’ve been nice to have let things run their course naturally and not to have put in the sunset clause, “we’re trying to find a balance between enhanced safety and performance,” Bancarz says. “We don’t want to harm the industry.”

If the industry’s pleas fall on deaf ears, it’ll be good news for trailer makers, at least temporarily, but it could be devastating for the industry. “It’ll put some of the older, smaller guys out of business,” says Root.

Singer agrees. “It’s a detriment to anyone who has this equipment.” He’s confident they can make their case, though, while realizing there are no guarantees. “I think we’ll convince the government, and that’s my goal,” he says.

Otherwise, Root says it’s “going to lead to a lot of trailers being junked. It’s an unnecessary dismantling of all that equipment.”

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