Singles permits to go year-round

by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. – Get out your calculators, because wide-base tires users will soon be able to buy two different special permits to give them gross axle weight parity with duals: the existing one for the two-month spring thaw, and a soon-to-be announced special permit for the rest of the year. Fleets with both special permits will have six times the period of parity and six times the chance to win…or not.

The normal-period special permits will cost $125 for a single axle, $250 for a tandem and $350 for a tridem or quad. The challenge for fleets is comparing the cost of the special permits to whatever savings they can wring out of running singles.

For those who have been tanning on a Cuban beach these past four years, one fat wide-base tire replaces a set of duals, yielding a 454-kilogram weight saving on a four-axle configuration, weight that can go directly into hauling more cargo. The official fuel savings advertised by Michelin, which makes the 455/55R22.5 X-One, is four per cent, but savings as high as 10 per cent have been reported. Singles increase stability and driver comfort and reduce maintenance.

The much-disputed downside is whether singles cause more road damage than duals. Old cement truck singles had a nasty reputation, but today’s singles are much-improved and do not…or do, depending on the study and how you tilt the numbers, damage roads more than duals.

Michelin, for one, disagrees with those who conclude that the new singles cause more damage.

“We contest that very strongly. We feel that road damage study results are being ignored or improperly interpreted,” says Ralph Beaveridge, marketing manager, Michelin North America.

Protestations aside, Transports Quebec decided that singles were harder on the roads. It decreed that in the normal season, tandems with duals can carry 18,000 kg, but tandems with singles only 16,000 kg. During the spring thaw this drops to 15,500 kg for tandems with duals, and 13,500 kg for tandems with singles.

The sting of the weight penalty was somewhat soothed by a special permit Transports Quebec has offered since 2002 that allows parity with duals; i.e., 15,500 kg, but only during the spring thaw.

In 2005 the spring permit cost $325 per vehicle with a tandem axle and $650 for a tractor semi-trailer with five axles.

The release of an economic impact study in March, 2005 got everyone excited again: Roughly reported, if all Quebec trucks dumped their duals and switched to singles, the damage to the highway infrastructure would be $38.7 million, but the direct benefits to the industry would be worth a cool $49 million, or $66.6 million with incidentals like reduced maintenance ($4 million), fuel savings ($34.3 million), less pollution ($17.8 million) and better safety ($1.4 million) tossed in.

“We (industry and government) concluded last December that the benefits to fleets outweighed the damage. But, from the government point of view, fleets have to compensate for the damage to the roads with special permits,” says Sophie Tremblay, coordinator, technical and operational dossiers for the Quebec Trucking Association (QTA).

Transports Quebec decided the study numbers justified cutting the 2006 spring thaw permit cost to $150 for each tandem, and $250 for a trailer with more than two axles. By March 27 Transports Quebec had reportedly delivered 500 special permits.

The QTA weighs in on the permit costs: “I do think that the special permit is always something that we don’t like. It is a burden on carriers’ shoulders. But the advantages (of singles) outweigh the cost of the special permit,” says Tremblay.

“I am very satisfied with the pragmatic, inclusive approach to the (road damage issue) implemented by Transports Quebec,” adds Beaveridge.

But now Transports Quebec is taking the pay-for-parity concept even further. Although at press time the news was not yet in general circulation, Gervais Corbin, chief of service engineer with Transports Quebec, hinted that more change was afoot.

“We are looking for a formula that will create compatibility between Ontario and Quebec,” he says. “We can use the same concept for the normal period as the thaw period, which is a permit, or maintain the 1,000-kilogram penalty. We have to make a decision by the end of the thaw period.”

Currently, Ontario trailers built before 2006 and used with Safe, Productive, Infrastructure-Friendly (SPIF) equipment, can run singles at weight parity with duals. This is not compatible with Quebec weight limits. But a 1,000-kg penalty for trailers built after 2005 give parity with Quebec for those trailers.

The to-be-announced normal period permits will create a certain compatibility between Quebec and Ontario. For a fee, singles-equipped Ontario trucks will be able to run their 9,000 kg/axle in Quebec and singles-equipped Quebec trucks will be able to legally carry 9,000 kg/axle through Quebec into Ontario.

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