Since its inception, Truck News has been a trusted source of information for all-things trucking. The publication has broken many big stories throughout the years and has helped truckers learn about and understand changes that affect them.
Truck News executive editor James Menzies pored through 25 years of back issues and assembled this list of the 25 most significant news stories to be covered by Truck News. It’s nearly impossible to compile a list of this nature that everyone agrees on, so take the rankings with a grain of salt.
Not everyone will agree on where each of the following news stories should fit in, but enjoy the stroll through memory lane and if you feel compelled to discuss any of these events in more detail, visit the blog at trucknews.com to join in the discussion.
The 2007 Emission Standards
We don’t have to look back very far to find this story – it has dominated the pages of Truck News for the better part of the year.
Trucks and engines will combine to cost fleets and owner/operators between $7,500 and $10,000 more beginning in January of 2007. The reason is that engine manufacturers are forced to reduce emissions by 90% in 2007 and to do so they must add a costly new aftertreatment system and revamp several engine components.
The reason this story doesn’t rank higher is that the technology being employed is already in use and the engine manufacturers are ready for the change. Beyond the increased purchase price, implementation of the new equipment should be a non-issue and there should be a seamless transition for operators.
Servants hold industry hostage
A long, bitter strike by Ontario’s public servants in the spring of 1996 caused havoc in the trucking industry. Weigh scales and licensing offices were closed. Trucking companies couldn’t get permits – but who needed them when there was no enforcement?
Road conditions were brutal due to a lack of plowing and maintenance and at least one serious pileup involving several big rigs was blamed on the strike.
It was anarchy on Ontario’s roads with truck safety put at risk.
“This is an opportunity for any trucking company to put their garbage on the road,” Len Mills, a striking highway maintenance officer told Truck News at the time. “And any defects in the highway won’t be fixed.”
Owner/operators – Independents or employees?
In July of 1993, a long-standing debate on the status of owner/operators finally comes to a conclusion.
The Workers’ Compensation Board and the industry finally agree on owner/operator status and declare O/Os to be independents.
A simple list of criteria is developed to clarify the muddy waters and owner/operators get the independence they’d long sought.
Border blockades I
Trucker Wayne Whitney is frustrated with low rates and rising costs. He decides to take matters into his own hands and block the border at Windsor during the May and July long weekends of 1990.
He gets arrested for his trouble during the first blockade, but undeterred, he returns to the border in July to lead another unsuccessful blockade.
This time he’s arrested again, and slapped with a $1 million lawsuit for violating an injunction. Unfazed, Whitney tells Truck News “I’m broke. They can sue me if they want because I don’t have much. I’ll give them a dollar a day if they want.”
A year later Whitney is once again arrested for trying to cause a border blockade (see # 3).
Smoking ban for trucks
Ontario gets tough on smoking vehicles in the GTA, launching the Smog Patrol and soon thereafter the Drive Clean program.
By 1999, the two programs make Ontario the toughest jurisdiction on polluting trucks in North America. Meanwhile, B.C. launches its own on-road emissions tests.
Interlink Freight Systems goes belly-up in July of 1997, resulting in the loss of 2,292 jobs. It’s one of the biggest receiverships in the history of Canadian trucking.
Ironically, those who lost their jobs had to share in the responsibility of the company’s demise. Interlink Freight Systems was purchased by its own employees for $1 from CP Express in 1994 and operated as an employee-run fleet. Still, it was a devastating event for well over 2,000 trucking industry employees.
Pass the pipe, err…the test
Drug testing becomes mandatory for Canadian drivers operating in the US in 1996. The ruling takes effect immediately for fleets with 50 drivers or more. A year later, all trucking companies that operate south of the border must comply.
Challenger Motor Freight driver Steve Smollett is the first Canadian trucker to cross into Mexico with proper authority from the Mexican government. The inaugural trip takes place Oct. 7, 1994.
Previously, Canadian truckers had to drop their trailers at the border where they would be picked up by Mexican truckers.
Challenger CEO Dan Einwechter tells Truck News he views Mexico as “the next land of opportunity” under NAFTA.
Owner/operators get recognition
Truck News launches the first annual Truck News Owner/Operator of the Year award in 1994. It’s the first award of its kind and still stands today as the longest running and most prestigious award available to owner/operators.
At the time of its launch, then Truck News publisher Ted Light said “For years we have noted there have been awards for fleet managers, company drivers, maintenance managers, etc. All of these awards have recognized the high quality achievements of their deserving winners, yet the owner/operators in our industry are rarely recognized.”
Truck News has since presented the award in each of the past 13 years.
Help from the feds
In 1991, owner/operators were dropping like flies due to a slow economy and rising fuel prices. The industry appealed to the federal government to come to the aid of truckers – and the feds followed through.
Among the gifts were: an increased depreciation rate for new equipment; a temporary loss offset program involving federal excise tax rebates; a $3 million grant for the establishment of a trucking research and development institute; and $2.7 million for an owner/operator buyers’ co-op.
“It’s not quite what we were hoping for, but generally it’s a positive move,” the Canadian Trucking Association says at the time. The CTA was hoping low-cost loans would be included in the package.
The co-op ends up as another industry boondoggle. Two owner/operator groups cannot agree on who should get the money so it is split between the two groups. The co-op later faces much criticism and is eventually dissolved as truckers claim they can negotiate better deals with suppliers on their own.
Fuel prices surge
The omnipresent problem of volatile fuel prices dominated the front pages in February, 1991 thanks largely to the first Iraq war. Diesel prices jumped 20% and fleets were mostly unable to pass the additional costs on to shippers.
“Due to the heightened competition in the trucking industry these days, passing the increases along to the shipper is not easy,” Truck News wrote at the time. “The shipper knows that if one carrier refuses to haul his goods at the price he’s willing to pay, he can simply get another one to do it.”
Alas, some things never change, and high fuel costs remain an issue in 2006. Fortunately a capacity crunch in the past few years has allowed most fleets to pass fuel surcharges onto shippers.
Rewriting the weights and dimension regs
In July, 198
7 the Road Transport Association of Canada and the Canadian Conference of Motor Transport Administrators endorsed a plan to allow new configurations while scrapping others.
Gone are A-trains, spread tandems and belly axles. In are 53-foot trailers with up to three axles and gross weights of more than 100,000 lbs. Also in are B-trains with gross weights of up to 137,500 lbs.
It’s several years before the new configurations are finally seen on the highway, as Ontario proves to be especially wary of the 53-foot trailers. It’s 1994 before the widespread use of 53-foot trailers is approved in Ontario without a permit.
OBAC gets robbed
Unlucky #13 goes to the scandal that surrounded the Owner-Operators’ Business Association of Canada in 2002. The formation of the new owner/operator group followed the demise of the National Truckers Alliance of Canada.
With some government funding from the province of Ontario and Industry Canada, the group launched at Truck World in 2002. However, before the fledgling group could get its feet wet, accountant Tony Leckie takes off with the bulk of its money. Then, founder Bill Wellman publicly criticizes the group for its spending habits. That was followed by the resignation of president Dave Marson and several other board members.
What began with so much promise appeared to be on the brink of an irrecoverable catastrophe. Leckie turned himself into police in the spring of 2004 and admitted he gambled most of the start-up funds away. Joanne Ritchie – formerly of Industry Canada – stepped in to try to save the group as its executive director and her efforts are ongoing today.
Truckers put on a diet
In its first federal budget, a new Liberal government promptly slashes the meal allowance for Canadian truckers.
The unpopular move, however, nets the Feds about $235 million per year in savings. Truck News rallies behind the cause and organizes a letter writing campaign that results in over 3,500 letters being mailed to Ottawa.
Give it a rest
Sept. 20, 2002 and 10 years of haggling over a new Hours-of-Service regime finally conclude. The new rules include revised daily and weekly work limits and increase the daily minimum rest periods.
Maximum daily driving time is reduced from 16 hours per day to 13 and truckers can no longer rack up 104 hours per week.
“The ministers are to be commended for doing the right thing,” says CTA chief, David Bradley, adding they “deserve credit for shepherding the proposals through to this stage when at times the slugging was very tough and the political rewards were uncertain.”
Slow it down!
In one of its most controversial moves to date, the Ontario Trucking Association endorses a plan that would require all trucks to be mechanically limited to 105 km/h while operating on Ontario highways. The announcement is made in November, 2005 and soon thereafter the other provincial associations and CTA have gotten on-board.
Predictably, the response from drivers is mixed, with most opposing the plan. Nearly a year later there is still no word from the Ontario government on whether or not the policy will become law.
On Jan. 31, 1995 Angela Worona of Whitby is killed when a flying truck wheel crashes into her vehicle on Hwy. 401. A similar accident occurs just a few months later on the QEW and the following year two more people are killed by flying truck wheels.
The public demands action and they get it. The government makes wheel installation training mandatory for anyone who performs wheel installations. It also introduces absolute liability legislation which takes away an operator’s ability to defend itself following a wheel-off incident. A National Task Force is established to explore the issue.
Ontario also introduces fines of up to $50,000 for wheel-off incidents. Ironically, the night before the stiff new fines are announced, a wheel goes careening off an MTO snowplow.
“I’m truly embarrassed,” admits a red-faced Transport Minister, Al Palladini.
Where are the drivers?
Truck News first sheds light on an impending shortage of qualified truck drivers in its February, 1985 issue.
At that time, the Private Motor Truck Council had just finished canvassing its members to determine whether a driver shortage existed.
“It is too early yet to determine the actual nature of the problem, as members have not yet had time to really respond to the problem,” Russ Neal, executive vice-president of the organization told Truck News.
Today, nary an issue goes to print without some reference to the driver shortage plaguing the trucking industry.
Going green – at a cost
In 2002, engine manufacturers are forced to introduce their emissions-cutting technology originally not slated for production until 2004. The Environmental Protection Agency caught some manufacturers ‘cheating’ in 1998 and circumventing existing emissions limits. In addition to levying fines against the engine-makers, the EPA also fast-tracked the next round of emissions standards.
The new engines cost substantially more – but worse, there was not adequate time to test the new technologies (ACERT for Caterpillar and EGR for the others). Unlike in 2007, manufacturers are forced to go into mass production having accumulated limited test miles.
Inevitably, some problems arise in the field, although they are not widespread and the major catastrophe some truck fleets anticipated was averted.
What the engine manufacturers weren’t able to avoid, however, were stiff fuel economy penalties ranging anywhere from 4-12%. It’s the first time trucking companies and owner/operators are forced to pay substantially more for a product that’s significantly less efficient.
In February, 2000 a cold snap in the northeastern US is partially to blame for an unprecedented spike in diesel costs. Diesel prices spike to as much as 80 cents/litre. Calls for surcharges have been met with limited success and once again trucking companies and owner/operators declare their doom is imminent.
Truckers take measures into their own hands and block traffic through slow-moving convoys and blockades. In March, they gather on Parliament Hill and demand relief from high fuel prices.
The situation dies down until October when more price spikes result in a standoff between the trucking industry and the government. The revolt is led by the National Truckers Association and its leader, Bill Wellman.
A unified voice
In 1997 the Canadian Trucking Alliance is formed as the umbrella group for the seven provincial trucking associations. Ontario Trucking Association chief David Bradley is named its first CEO, a position he still holds today.
The CTA has established itself as a powerful lobby group in Ottawa, representing more than 2,000 member carriers from coast-to-coast.
While not everyone agrees with the policies of the CTA or its member associations, it’s an important move for the industry that now suddenly has more sway in the nation’s capital.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is implemented in January, 1994 amid fears that Canada would essentially become just another US state.
The OTA opposes free trade through a discussion paper that outlines fears giant US carriers would take over the Canadian trucking industry. With major Canadian markets located close to the US border, the association feared the industry could easily be swallowed up by American transport companies.
“US carriers could commence full service in Canada with a minimum of capital investment and administrati
ve overhead,” the OTA complained in 1988. “The future viability of both the Ontario and Canadian trucking industries could be jeopardized.”
Ultimately, free trade with the US opened up many opportunities for Canadian carriers who can attribute much of their success to the trade agreement.
Border blockades II
Previous attempts at blocking the Canada/US border may not have had the desired effect, but there was no ignoring the blockades of May, 1991.
The blockades began at the border and within days spread to Toronto and other areas as well.
Truck News carried the headline: ‘Ontario under siege, truckers turn highways into battlefield.’
The Windsor, Sarnia and Fort Erie borders are blocked by truckers and trucks surround the Ontario legislature and Parliament Hill.
In all, 42 truckers were charged. Never far from the action, Wayne Whitney and his wife were each slapped with a permanent injunction and Wayne was taken away in handcuffs once again.
In 1983, then Transport Minister Lloyd Axworthy announced Canada would deregulate the trucking industry. Soon thereafter, the Liberals lost their control of Parliament Hill, but the federal Tories decided to carry the deregulation torch.
On June 26, 1986 a new National Transportation Act and Motor Vehicle Transport Act were introduced, effectively deregulating the trucking industry. A new National Safety Code was also introduced at the time.
Transport Minister, Don Mazankowski, said deregulation would “encourage greater price competition and the provision of new and expanded services” promoting “competitiveness and productivity.”
Truck fleets worried an influx of new operators into the industry would result in a free-for-all that would drive down rates and put road safety on the back burner.
Canadian Trucking Association leader Ken Maclaren said “In a hyper-sensitive regime, safety is one of the first things to go.”
The industry was almost unanimously wary of deregulation and the three-year transition period was deemed as too short.
Whether you were delivering a load to New York City, waiting in line at the border or enjoying a cup of coffee at a truck stop – chances are you were impacted in one way or another by the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
When terrorists slammed four planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, they forever changed the face the world. Also changed forever, was the trade relationship between Canada and the US and our ability to cross into their country largely unscrutinized.
Since 9/11 there have been a plethora of new border security programs and initiatives introduced and they have placed a heavy financial and administrative burden on the Canadian trucking industry.
Homeland security has trumped trade as the number one concern in the US and the trucking industry has been an unwitting victim. Still, trucking is probably the most resilient industry in the world. And just as the residents of New York City and Washington picked themselves up and swept the dust from their knees, so too have Canadian carriers who have rallied to remain competitive in a reshaped transborder operating environment.
The sheer enormity of the events of 9/11 and the ongoing fallout five years later have made it the most significant story Truck News has covered in its 25 years of print.
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