TORONTO, Ont. – Long Combination Vehicles (LCVs), consisting of a tractor and two 53-ft. trailers measuring 40 metres in total length, are coming to Ontario.
It’s a much-anticipated move that proponents say will benefit shippers, carriers, consumers and yes, even drivers. The province announced the launch of a year-long pilot project Apr. 16, which will allow up to 50 Ontario trucking companies to operate two LCVs each beginning as early as June. Doug Switzer, vice-president of public affairs with the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), said about 30 member carriers have already expressed interest in participating in the program.
Participating carriers must belong to either the OTA or Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) and will be held to rigorous safety standards, according to the province.
“We are taking a careful look at long combination vehicles to test their benefits,” announced Ontario Transport Minister, Jim Bradley. “The additional advantages to our environment and economy would be welcomed.”
Environmentally, the widespread use of LCVs has the potential to remove 2,800 trucks from Toronto-area highways each day, to the OTA, which has been pushing for LCVs for more than a year. OTA president David Bradley pointed out LCVs can transport two loads using 30% less fuel, and added a recent study showed there’s the potential for the Ontario trucking industry to collectively cut its fuel consumption by 54 million litres, eliminating 151 kilotonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
The province is also touting economical advantages for the province’s retailers and manufacturers, which was welcomed by shipper group the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association.
“This is a good thing for Ontario’s retailers and manufacturers,” said the group’s president, Bob Ballantyne. “LCVs will reduce transportation costs, fuel consumption and emissions associated with truck transportation.”
In an MTO backgrounder, the province said the use of LCVs will allow Ontario retailers and manufacturers to “bring voluminous, lightweight goods to market at a lower cost.”
But what about the professional drivers who will be piloting these mega-loads? In the US, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has been fundamentally opposed to the introduction of longer, heavier vehicles. But here at home, Joanne Ritchie, executive director of the Owner-Operators’ Business Association of Canada (OBAC) was less resistant to the move. She said OBAC is not categorically opposed to LCVs, but she does question the “exclusivity” of the pilot program, which will only be available to OTA and PMTC members.
Ritchie told Truck News she’s concerned freight will be taken out of the general pool and redirected onto LCVs, which will likely only be viable for large carriers with the capital to invest in new equipment and the engineering studies that will be required by municipalities. And while she commended the province for making the carriers pay the cost of those engineering studies, she was concerned the studies would remain the sole property of the carrier that paid for them – possibly preventing smaller fleets with shallower pockets from getting in on the LCV action.
“There are a lot of things about the exclusivity that really worry me,” she said in an interview with Truck News.
The OTA’s Switzer made no apologies for the fact the pilot will be available exclusively to OTA and PMTC member companies. He explained they have already invested significant resources into paving the way for LCVs in Ontario, which is why they’ll get the first crack at taking part.
“This is something the OTA and PMTC took a lead on and developed,” he told Truck News, adding OTA carriers have already spent as much as $200,000 on the engineering studies required to “qualify the highway system.”
“This isn’t just happening,” he said. “We’re putting a lot of money and resources into this.”
He said when the pilot project concludes, the ability to use LCVs will likely be expanded to all fleets.
OBAC’s Ritchie admitted outright opposition of LCVs would be a “knee-jerk” reaction. Instead, she said drivers should consider all the benefits of LCVs – including the opportunity to drive up driver pay.
“(LCV) drivers should pick up on the fact they’re being billed as elite drivers, safe drivers, the cream of the crop and demand more (money),” she urged. “The Ministry can set the rules, set the qualifications and guidelines for safety and training requirements, but they can’t dictate to the carriers how much to pay these elite drivers.”
While she hopes driver compensation increases for LCV-certified drivers, she expressed some skepticism. “I’d like to see it first,” she said.
Rob Penner, vice-president of operations with Bison Transport, said his company pays a 20-25% premium to its LCV drivers. The company already operates twin-53s in Western Canada, and currently has Ontario-based drivers undergoing LCV training out west.
Drivers wishing to drive LCVs must be experienced operators with a clean safety record and they will also require an LCV Driver Certificate to go along with their A/Z licence. The certificate is non-transferrable between carriers, the OTA confirmed, but a driver can be recertified by a new employer without taking the training over again.
The OTA said it’s still in the process of finalizing training criteria.
There are other requirements as well – in fact, Ontario promises to be among the most stringent of all the regions that currently allow LCVs. The exhaustive list of restrictions includes: allowing them only on designated, divided highways (mostly 400-series highways); restricting them to approved routes; requiring safety technologies such as stability systems; keeping them from travelling through the Toronto area at rush hour or during certain hours preceding and following long weekends; preventing them from hauling dangerous goods; parking them all winter and in foul weather; and limiting them to 90 km/h at all times.
Ontario’s rules differ from Quebec’s, most notably with a lower GVW (63,500 kgs compared to 67,500 kgs in Quebec) and with requirements for safety systems such as stability control, which simply didn’t exist back when Quebec wrote its own rules. Despite the absence of complete harmonization, Ontario carriers are nonetheless optimistic there’ll be opportunities to run LCVs into La Belle Province.
In Bison’s case, a typical scenario would involve combining two light, cubed-out loads or one heavy load along with a light load, and running it from the US border at Windsor through Montreal, Penner explained.
This is how his company envisions integrating LCVs into its Ontario operations: “Our primary lane, and I think the pilot’s primary lane, is going to be Montreal through Windsor. We’ll split in Windsor and have our US-qualified drivers drop there when they cross the border. So we’ll run our LCV units (south), bring two loads down and have two trucks coming northbound drop their trailers. We’ll pull the two loads back and they’ll pull singles into the US.”
It’s not yet clear where drivers will be able to pull off the 401 for sleep, to answer nature’s calls or to drop trailers, or where they’ll find parking that will accommodate the extra length, given Ontario’s already dismal lack of rest areas. But Penner insisted it’s all being taken care of behind the scenes, and that there’ll be suitable emergency pulloffs every 80 kms or so along the 401, as required by the province.
Switzer said the engineering of pull-off areas is ongoing, adding “that is the biggest stumbling block at this point.”
“Temporarily, there might be some struggles, but every rest area and fuel stop along the 401 corridor is being engineered right now,” to accommodate the twin-53s, Penner added. Carriers are also already conducting engineering studies required by municipalities to ensure they can safely navigate their LCVs between the 400-series highways and their
own terminals or break yards.
Once these behemoths take to Ontario roads – which could happen as early as June or July if all goes well on the engineering front – the public will need to be convinced LCVs are safe vehicles with which to share the roads. Fortunately for LCV proponents, safety studies in Western Canada, Quebec and the 20 or so states that allow them, seem to support their cause.
“Study after study has shown that LCVs have an excellent safety record,” said OTA’s Bradley. “For example, one Alberta study estimated that LCVs account for a reduction of 67 collisions a year when compared to the number of collisions that would be realized by using single-trailer configurations for the same operations.”
The province of Ontario said a 2005 study in Alberta showed LCVs have an accident rate that’s 60% lower than conventional tractor-trailers.
Still, the sheer size of twin-53s may seem intimidating to much of the truck-fearing, four-wheeling public, and early opinion in local media following the provincial announcement was tilted heavily in opposition of allowing what were widely referred to as “road trains.”
But Penner said he’s confident the industry will eventually prove skeptics wrong.
“You don’t have to spend many minutes on an Ontario highway to see the benefits, when you look at two trucks travelling several metres apart going down the highway at 100 km/h or one truck pulling two trailers,” he said. “These drivers are the most trained and most supervised, and have the strictest rules of any drivers on the road today and for us it represents the very safest part of our fleet – and we’ve been the safest fleet in North America for four years running.”