The way governments make policy has changed substantially over the last several years. Gone are the days when government policy shops had legions of engineers, lawyers, mathematicians, and economists.
The penetration of government policy into your businesses may have expanded in recent years, but the number of bureaucrats behind these rules and procedures has shrunk dramatically – particularly in the case of transportation and infrastructure policy.
As an operator, why should you care about the shrinking of transportation expertise within government bureaucracies? Many in our industry would likely agree that the fewer government officials we have, the better. But when you lose that much experience and expertise in our sector it inevitably also brings the consequences of policy neglect.
As such, it becomes even more important that trucking industry leaders get more involved in their association, which is undoubtedly an investment in time and includes a financial commitment.
So, what sort of expertise are we talking about with regards to infrastructure improvement? Are there, for example, off-ramps to your customers’ facilities that need improving; or is there lane-widening required on a congested part of the provincial highway that you travel?
Government at times will ask for our input in regards to design requirements. So, it’s trade associations and their members that must make the case for infrastructure investments in these areas. There are some good government people left in freight transportation planning, but they are few. In other words, without your voice and input we can be left with substandard roadways for transporting freight.
The same could be said for the establishment of municipal truck routes, roundabouts and freight delivery plans. Ideas are put forward and implemented by municipal planners and politicians with little knowledge about our vehicle needs and customer demands. Once again, there are some good people throughout the municipal freight policy arena, but they are stretched thin with little resources from which to draw.
These realities have changed how the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) serves its members. Trade associations must not only prepare a list of issues and solutions for government, but they must also be prepared to put together a detailed action plan, along with all technical and legal analysis, that would allow government to put the right solutions in place. This approach to lobbying requires two major factors to be successful: industry input and involvement;
and financial resources to develop the technical and legal documents to support member positions.
Two areas in which this approach was recently put into play include the long combination vehicle (LCV) program and municipal roundabouts.
The Ontario government was ready to move on LCVs but was not willing to dedicate engineering or computer system resources to the program. The message from government was simple: If industry wanted this program, we would need to design and pay for it.
When government requests changes on an annual basis to improve safety parameters of the program, it’s OTA that pays for them to be put in place. Seven years and close to $1 million of OTA investments later, the LCV program is a resounding success. It took significant funds to create this program; but, more importantly, it was industry members dedicating their financial resources, time and expertise to lead program design changes that truly drove this achievement. A similar policy reality was seen in the municipal arena with the construction of roundabouts. The practicality of such road designs is certainly debatable, but membership is unanimous in our petition to cities and townships that if they are going to build roundabouts, they must work for all commercial vehicle configurations.
Once again, it was OTA membership, along with contracted engineers, who got involved and designed a standard roundabout configuration for all trucks – a private sector-led and financed municipal infrastructure policy. Without this effort by OTA members and financial investment by the OTA Board, it’s highly doubtful this engineering blueprint for roundabouts would ever have materialized.
The industry is faced with a similar challenge in 2015. The City of Toronto is struggling to find fair solutions for all the freight service sectors with regards to a freight delivery plan that assists in reducing congestion, but also meets the realities of customer demands.
OTA is working on a solution that represents a unified vision for meeting the city’s requirements while at the same time accommodating various sectors’ operational needs. To achieve this goal, a number of private-sector entities will need to get involved and provide input. Once again, this will require time commitments and financial resources from both transportation and shipper/receiver organizations. The new challenge facing OTA is not only about dealing with government on the solutions that will need to be implemented, but also reaching out to private-sector partners and convincing them to come aboard. Without a unified effort from the private and public sectors, we will continue to spin our wheels in achieving effective transportation policy which reflects the operational realities on the ground.
Steve Laskowski is senior vice-president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and Ontario Trucking Association. He has been involved in various files including environmental and cross-border matters, domestic and international taxation of trucking activities and intermodal relations.