First, some great news that never makes it into the mainstream press. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation's Annual Road Safety Report (ORSAR) for 2001 was recently released and not only did it show...
First, some great news that never makes it into the mainstream press. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s Annual Road Safety Report (ORSAR) for 2001 was recently released and not only did it show that Ontario’s roads were the safest in North America that year, it once again showed that Class A drivers and their tractor-trailers are the safest drivers and vehicles on the road. You’re the best!
In 2001, tractor-trailer units, including double-trailer combinations and bobtailing tractors, represented only 1.8 per cent of all vehicles involved in all collisions on Ontario roadways. Moreover, these vehicles accounted for only 6.5 per cent of all the vehicles involved in all fatal collisions that year. The actual number of persons killed in all truck collisions (including straight trucks as well as tractor-trailer units) decreased by over 4.5 per cent in 2001 to 143 and were down over 16 per cent from their peak of the previous five years which occurred in 1999.
The ORSAR report highlights the professionalism inherent in the trucking industry from the drivers behind the wheel to the maintenance shops. Notably, the data compiled by MTO shows that where persons were killed in collisions involving trucks, the truck driver is not at fault in the vast majority of cases. Indeed, for 2001, the truck driver was deemed to have been driving properly in 72 per cent of the fatal collisions. This number has not been lower than 69 per cent in any of the past five years and has been trending upwards steadily. The report also found vehicle defects were a factor in only six per cent of trucks involved in fatal collisions in 2001.
The report also found that the longest double-trailer truck configurations allowed on Ontario’s roads are very safe.
Something that did garner headlines in recent weeks was the unveiling of David Collenette’s vision for Canada’s transportation system. As expected, the document deals mainly with rail and air policy, reflecting the areas of transportation regulation where the federal government maintains authority.
It touches on most of the old chestnuts and contains all the latest buzzwords, like efficiency, sustainability and innovation but once it veers away from the traditional areas of federal involvement, it is soft on new commitments and concrete actions.
Case in point: highways. Although the vision says the government will place a high priority on selective, strategic investments in highways, roads, bridges, as well as passenger and short line rail infrastructure and grade crossings, it also states that “federal responsibility for highways and urban transportation is minimal.” To its credit, the federal government has been making, or at least announcing some of these selective investments of late. But, road users are told to forget about their federal gasoline and diesel fuel taxes being used to pay for highways: “the government’s interest in investigating governance models for road infrastructure and urban transit should not create an expectation of change in its policy with regard to excise taxation of fuels.”
Although not entirely absent, the vision does not overtly promote rail over truck. Moreover, it says the Government of Canada “believes that the transportation system of tomorrow should remain largely market driven…”
In an editorial that appeared in the Globe & Mail the day before the minister released his vision, representatives of the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) expressed hope that Transport Minister, David Collenette, would propose European-style measures such as tolls and user charges to reduce the use of cars and trucks (and thereby increase rail use). RAC says we should heed recent work from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in this area. Okay. An OECD report “Strategies to Reduce GHG from Road Transport, 2002” provides analysis on how some of these “enlightened” European policies have failed to force a shift of freight traffic from truck to rail.
France has been promoting rail transport since 1990. However, the share of freight transported by rail has not increased. It’s the same today as it was then – about 25 per cent.
The Swiss government capped truck weights to encourage rail intermodal services and invested significantly in upgrading the rail network. But the share of Swiss national freight traffic by rail has actually decreased. In fact, the Swiss government recently raised truck weight limits to try and win back some of the trans-national truck traffic that began by-passing the country. The OECD forecasts that trucking will remain the preferred mode due to its better performance on just-in-time delivery.
Mr. Collenette’s vision did call for more study of road pricing and more tolls. This no doubt was well received by the railway association and contract hungry economics consultants. However, the vision did not include the one thing that might have provided the minister with some legitimacy in exploring these matters – a funded national highway policy. Canada remains the world’s only major industrialized country not to have one, which means Ottawa is destined to remain a bystander, muting its policy influence in road transportation.
If the railways want more of the truckers’ freight they will have to attain it through the market, not through public policy.
– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.