Truck Activity in Canada Takes Microscope to a Scrappy Industry

by Harry Rudolfs

People involved in trucking know how important their jobs are, but for outsiders, trucks are either a nuisance or invisible.

It takes an expert like Fred Nix to crunch the numbers and explain just how important the trucking industry is to the Canadian economy.

And that’s exactly what he’s done in his recently published report for Transport Canada, titled Truck Activity in Canada – A Profile.

The large numbers Nix uncovers are astounding.

Did you know, for instance, that trucking employs about a third of a million people and that more than 263,000 are truck drivers?

Did you know that private fleets, for-hire trucking and couriers represent a $48 billion industry?

And did you know that, in 2002, about 26 trucks per minute crossed the Canada-U.S. border?

Over-the-road transport, which has been eating away at rail freight since the 1950s, continues to serve as Canada’s preferred means of shipping.

The for-hire sector of the industry alone contributes 2.4 times as much to the gross domestic product as does rail (freight and passenger service combined).

The report also underlines the importance of north-south lanes to the trucking industry.

Cross border transport has increased dramatically since the late 80s (the beginning of deregulation in Canada) and Canadian trucks have increased their share of international trips from 59 per cent in 1984 to 70 per cent in 2000.

Assessing the bigger picture, Nix takes a look across Canada and finds the prairie provinces have a disproportionate share of the nation’s truck registrations (perhaps, he speculates, because of the large farm-truck population).

Ontario, however, has become clearly entrenched as the hub of Canadian trade with the U.S.

With 38 per cent of the population, the province accounts for 54 per cent of the for-hire truck tonnage and 63 per cent of border crossings take place there.

Nix also spends some time looking at public safety issues. Citing a report from truck collision statistics gathered between 1994 and 1998, trucks appear to be getting safer. During that period, the fatal collision rate involving trucks fell by 16.5 per cent, and the injury collision rate fell by a corresponding 12.1 per cent.

Moreover, trucks are people too. The report is an important document because it looks at the human side of trucking – in particular compensation paid to drivers.

The perception that owner/operators are getting the short end of the pay-stick is supported by the following figures.

Although these are based on reported earnings to Revenue Canada, they suggest that independent truck owners are underpaid across the board:

1997 Average After-Tax Incomes (source Stats Canada):

Owner/operators: $16,000

Company drivers (for-hire): $26,800

Company drivers (private): $26,230

Nix is quick to point out that truck operators pay their share of road taxes.

An operator of a Class 8 truck currently pays more than 10 cents a kilometre in Ontario fuel taxes and almost 12 cents a kilometre in Newfoundland.

Citing a small study conducted by two Cambridge, Ont. nurses, the report also considers drivers’ health issues – and the prognosis is not good.

Besides an aging population of drivers a…”more worrisome characteristic of truck drivers…is that they don’t appear to be very healthy.

According to the survey 81 per cent of the drivers were overweight, 33 per cent had blood pressure that was too high, 60 per cent did not get enough physical exercise, 87 per cent did not have a diet that met the standards of the Canada Food Guide and 34 per cent smoked.”

Truck Activity is a broad report that touches on a variety of truck-related issues.

It reports on energy use (rising fuel prices may force compliance with the Kyoto protocol whether we like it or not), the high turnover rate among drivers and irregular working schedules (about 40 per cent of for-hire drivers have no set working hours).

One American study indicates that dry van drivers spent 33.5 hours per week waiting to get loaded or unload, a particularly significant figure considering the new U.S. hours of service regulations that came into effect in January.

It’s worth mentioning that the report provides no analysis of how the sharp increase of the Canadian dollar has affected the trucking industry, but to be fair, Nix completed this report in the spring of 2003, well before the increase occurred.

No doubt, truckers and the companies they work for will find some way to survive, as they always do.

To view the report, visit

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.