LANGLEY, B.C. - A quartet of initiatives from the B.C. government aims to help increase safety for the trucking industry in the province, while also recognizing the province's best carriers and raisin...
LANGLEY, B.C. –A quartet of initiatives from the B.C. government aims to help increase safety for the trucking industry in the province, while also recognizing the province’s best carriers and raising public awareness that the industry is already very safe.
The initiatives were announced in mid-June by B.C. Transportation Minister Shirley Bond and stem from a report by the Truck Compliance Advisory Panel.
“We put (this panel) in place to work with industry and labour in finding ways to improve commercial vehicle safety,” Bond says in a government press release announcing the move. “The result was a number of recommendations that ensure we can focus attention to where it is needed most and get unsafe vehicles of the road, and keep them off.”
Bond says all of the panel’s recommendations are being implemented.
Keeping unsafe vehicles off the road is only part of the plan, however -the ‘stick,’ as it were. There’s also a ‘carrot’ in the creation of a Premium Carrier program that recognizes safe companies.
The three ‘sticks’ are: a “best practice development” meant to foster more responsibility and cooperation between carriers and shippers; increased oversight into Designated Inspection Facilities and inspectors; and a “plate seizure” program that gets mechanically-unsound commercial vehicles off the road immediately and keeps them off until their owners can convince the government they won’t repeat their mistakes.
According to Paul Landry, executive director and CEO of the B.C. Trucking Association, the plate seizure program is a much more aggressive approach to dealing with vehicles that are not merely unfit, but unfit dramatically.
“We already have regulations that deal with various components that are below standards,” he says, “and of course there’s the CVSA out-of-service standard which the province continues to adhere to, but our feeling was that there are some vehicles that are so far below the standard that stronger action is required in order to bring those carriers into compliance.”
Landry says the new program focuses on vehicle control, and is meant to cover vehicles with major problems in terms of steering, tires or brakes.
“It would involve significant failures in several CVSA components,” he says, “where there’s clear evidence that absolutely no attempt has been made to maintain the safety of the equipment.”
Landry cites worn out or cut tires in combination with maladjusted or broken brakes and flawed steering as a candidate for this type of roadside purgatory -which sees enforcement officers actually removing the vehicle’s licence plates on the spot and leave the truck on the side of the road, to be towed home later at the owner’s expense.
And it doesn’t end there. Not only are the plates seized, but the Insurance Corp. of B.C.’s (ICBC’s) licensing file on that vehicle is closed as well and the vehicle can’t be licensed again until the equipment is not only fixed but until the carrier has also explained to the satisfaction of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement branch what they intend to do to prevent such a situation from happening again.
“Our expectation is that it will take some time,” says Landry. “It’s going to be more than several days and that should create sufficient discomfort to encourage others to comply.”
While designing the new plan, the group mulled over Ontario’s “truck jail” policy -where the equipment would be seized and towed to an impound lot and only allowed back on the road when repaired -as being possibly worth emulating. It was rejected in the end, Landry says, because it “would require quite a lot of bureaucracy and administration on the part of government,” whereas (licence seizure) is fairly simple: you remove the plate and seal the file at ICBC and wait for the carrier to do what’s required.
Blowing the whistle on shippers
The second initiative, which promotes shared responsibility between drivers, carriers and shippers, is meant to develop best practices and promote awareness of shared responsibility for vehicles leaving shippers’ facilities. Landry says it will have the greatest effect on the dump truck industry, though it should also be felt in areas such as container and van operations.
“The government recognizes that shippers can play a role in terms of unsafe operation of large commercial vehicles,” Landry says, “and that more needs to be done to encourage shippers to play a better role in the loading of vehicles.” Landry notes that there have been “several incidents of vehicles being grossly overloaded, and both the industry and government want that dealt with.”
Landry mentions as a possible example a scenario in which a gravel pit operator would insist that a truck take on more than either its licensed weight or its safe, allowable legal weight, basically telling the trucker to take the load or not bother coming back.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a widespread activity either on the part of gravel pit or dump truck operators,” Landry admits, “but there’s enough of it to cause concern.”
Initially, the program only involves enforcement action: the government has agreed to monitor the situation and to deal with shippers who appear to be involved in such activities.
“For the time being, it’s going to be more observation and moral suasion,” Landry says, but if the situation doesn’t improve over the next several years, the government may look at legislation.
The government will learn of such situations through on-road enforcement: stopping over-laden trucks and finding out where the load came from, where it’s going and who the parties involved are. But the initiative could also open up the potential for carriers and/or drivers to act as whistleblowers, letting the government know if, for example, a particular pit is asking them to do things they shouldn’t be doing.
The province is also taking more aggressive action with respect to what Landry calls the “lick-and-stick” operators -inspection facilities that don’t conduct vehicle inspections properly but which issue the paperwork and decals anyway. Landry points as an example to a recent case in British Columbia in which a facility was doing exactly that.
“The government officials worked with the RCMP and took aggressive action against that facility and shut it down,” Landry says, noting that “it was a high-profile case and I think exemplifies the kind of problem we’re trying to deal with here.”
The initiative includes amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act that will allow Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement (CVSE) officials to monitor inspectors as they conduct inspections, looking over their shoulders, as it were, to make sure they’re following the program’s requirements. It also includes more stringent audit requirements for facilities that have been identified as potentially being of the “lick-and-stick” variety by comparing roadside inspections of vehicles with the inspections done at the facilities in question.
Best of the best
The ‘carrot,’ the Premium Carrier program, will recognize carriers that excel in terms of safety performance. Kind of analogous to Alberta’s Partners In Compliance program, though more limited in scope initially, it’s being developed by the BCTA in conjunction with the government.
“We’ve exchanged ideas with respect to how the program might work,” says Landry, “but the sense is that there are carriers that do a great job and the government wants that recognized.” So far, however, what that recognition will require on the part of the carrier is still murky. “We’re going to be looking at a way that carriers can participate in the program without an excessive administrative burden,” he says.
As for what exactly will be in it for the carriers, Landry thinks they’ll gain the recognition that they are better than the “Satisfactory” or “Satisfactory Unaudited” status granted currently by the National Safety Code.
“Over 99% of carriers in
British Columbia fall into that category,” he says, noting that, while some carriers in the category are only borderline safe, there are carriers that excel and “we want the carriers at the top of the heap to be recognized, so we’re hoping that will have some value in terms of their relationships with shippers and their ability to market their services to shippers.”
Landry says they’re also looking at benefits beyond the ability to use Premium Carrier status as a marketing device to show potential clients that a particular carrier is at the top of its game, benefits the government could provide in terms of, for example, weigh scale bypass.
“It’s a balance in terms of the investment a carrier makes in terms of getting into and staying in the program,” he notes. “Most of the carriers that will be in this category already know what they have to do in terms of safety performance. They excel because they want to, they excel because it makes good business sense to operate as safely as you possibly can.”
That said, carriers will undoubtedly look for a financial reward if there’s a significant additional burden in complying. Members of Alberta’s PIC program, for example, have the opportunity to acquire unlimited Alberta Carrier Profiles at no charge and to pull Alberta driver abstracts with the government portion of the fee waived. Those provide real benefits beyond mere bragging rights and can help make any extra paperwork required, or other hoops to jump through to prove your credibility, easier to take.
“What we’re going to try to accomplish,” Landry says, “is to make sure that the investment and involvement in the program is at least matched or exceeded by benefits -financial benefits, operating benefits and things like that -but honestly at this juncture I don’t know what the benefits are going to be.”
Landry also doesn’t know yet what the investment will be in terms of administration and the evidence a carrier will have to provide to prove its excellence, “but I am confident that the administrative burden won’t be excessive.”
The BCTA, along with the Truck Compliance Advisory Panel and the government, has been working on these initiatives since about 2008 and Landry says they promise to have wide-ranging effects throughout the industry.
“I think there’s something in it for everybody,” he says. “The licence plate seizure program will have an effect in terms of the bottom feeders, but on the other hand the Premier Carrier program will recognize the carriers that excel.”
Landry says they wanted to ensure that these new initiatives weren’t just about negatives. “We didn’t want to communicate to the public that we’re only concerned about bad carriers, that there are a lot of bad carriers out there and so there have to be negative, punitive programs,” he explains. “We also wanted to ensure that the public understands that there are safe carriers out there that are doing a great job and that we’re a safe industry.”
While the Premier Carrier program is a work in progress, the license plate seizure program and the “lick-and-stick fix” are both in effect now. Landry says the initiative to foster shared responsibility between carriers and shippers is also in place now, in that “enforcement officers are monitoring the situation and there are some discussions going on with regard to best practices in terms of gravel hauling.”
Questions still to be resolved include what gravel pits should be doing in terms of working with their carriers -ie., what kind of monitoring they should be doing to ensure that dump trucks are tarped and their sides free of loose gravel when they leave. More than merely new policies and procedures, these four initiatives can be looked upon as another way to foster a safer, more professional mindset among all parties involved.
“I think, in part, not only because of these initiatives but also through our new safety council and our Certificate of Recognition program for the trucking industry,” Landry says, “that we’re in a kind of longer-term initiative to really improve the industry’s culture in terms of safety, to raise the bar.”
Landry notes most carriers already operate very professionally, very safely, very responsibly, but admits “there’s still work to be done.”