Trucks and traffic

by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. –Shorter trucks, restricted delivery hours, forbidden zones, and ways to help truckers better see pedestrians and cyclists are part of a buffet of possible changes Montreal is considering to improve safety and traffic fluidity.

Last year, the City of Montreal developed a “Vision Zero” strategy “to ensure safe and harmonious travel for everyone on its territory.” This May, the 30 recommendations were adopted to help achieve that goal. Among them are quite a few that will, if they survive the move from paper to pavement, have a big impact on the trucking industry.

The following should be understood as recommendations, not cast-in-stone action items, as the Commission on Transport and Public Works has pledged in its recommendations to work closely with stakeholders, including the trucking industry, in its implementation of Vision Zero. Also, some of the recommendations are begging for pushback from the trucking industry and its clients.

“There is no bill yet. We are being consulted. I was told by the mayor that the trucking industry would be part of the discussion to find solutions,” says Marc Cadieux, president and director general of the Quebec Trucking Association.

As a show of sincerity, Montreal will install rearview cameras on its fleet of heavy vehicles, and provide ongoing training to its truck drivers. These changes will quickly spill over into private trucking, as the Commission recommends that the city’s suppliers in tenders requiring the use of heavy vehicles, be equipped with sideguards (intended to make it harder for cyclists and pedestrians to fall under trucks’ rear wheels), when deemed necessary.

The Commission also recommends that information be pulled together on systems that will reduce blind spots on heavy vehicles – ie., convex mirrors, side and rear cameras and “new technologies of assisted driving.” And following the lead of other cities that have done it, trucks with big blind spots will gradually be banned.

(This could take the form of a vision standard, like the one reportedly being developed by Transport for London, in England, that rates the size of blind spots of different makes of trucks, and will be used to gradually ban those with the poorest ratings).

The Commission has not forgotten that cyclists and pedestrians must also play their part, and its recommendations also include awareness campaigns. After all, as Cadieux points out, “There is more to be done on that issue. We do have to keep on educating people to respect the rules.”

What some might find unsettling is that the Commission, while acknowledging the need for awareness campaigns, emphasizes that heavy vehicle drivers have “the overriding responsibility.”

It brings to mind the ease with which governments make new, restrictive rules for the trucking industry, and Cadieux’s observation: “I always say that when you come at these ideas a la carte, you don’t analyze the impact of the changes. It might make good arguments on the political side, but not having to live the impact of those decisions afterward.”

On that theme, consider the Commission recommendations to limit the maximum length of trucks, the number of trucks, restrict local delivery hours, restrict the parking of heavy vehicles on some local streets and “reduce the number and size of trucks on the roads during morning and evening rush hour.” Or, “when the network is overloaded, by modulating the bans.”

Cadieux raises a number of concerns that flow from such recommendations: “What do you do with trucks? This is not the first time that the approach has been to limit trucks in rush hour. We are in rush hour all the time. What do you with those trucks that are rolling in from the U.S., Toronto? Where do you go to park them? What do you do if you subtract hours from rail delivery times?”

And, “A lot of those small industrial parks – how many of these industries have night shifts? Practically none. If you start impacting the industries with all kinds of restrictions, how is the merchandise industry going to function? At a meeting I said, ‘Let’s get some reaction from a federation or association that represents retailers. Why don’t we get issues and arguments from the retailers that will be affected.”

And, “What also came up was restricting the size of trucks. You will have more trucks. We are facing a shortage of drivers. Do we want to make the Island of Montreal the most expensive place to move goods?”

The above recommendations are considered “short-term” moves, although the time frame is left unspecified in the Commission recommendation.

Medium- and long-term recommendations include “Collecting relevant data to better understand the habits and needs of the logistics and trucking industry,” and, to “finalize the feasibility study to establish transshipment centers that would reduce the size of heavy vehicles in dense urban environments to favor more environmentally friendly freight transportation, such as electric delivery vehicles or cargo bicycles.”

Where all this will go remains to be seen, but, Cadieux warns, “There are a lot of secondary and negative side-effects to these ideas. These were arguments that I gave in my exchange with elected officials. Carriers will suffer at the beginning, but then the industry will adjust, and it will become more expensive in Montreal. We will probably look at our rates and set rates between this and that postal code. The market will set the rate. We will not operate at a loss. That was said very clearly.”

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