Trucking: An industry that solves its own problems
February 1, 2011
When people - outsiders, of course - ask me how it is I don't get bored covering the trucking industry, I'm never short for an answer. Of course, there's the usual rant about how the industry is constantly evolving, my fascination with the...
When people – outsiders, of course – ask me how it is I don’t get bored covering the trucking industry, I’m never short for an answer. Of course, there’s the usual rant about how the industry is constantly evolving, my fascination with the equipment that keeps the freight moving and the always-approachable people who make the industry hum. But in addition to all that, it’s the resourcefulness of the people in this business that is one of the industry’s most compelling and endearing traits.
You would be hard pressed to find another industry in which people work as hard for every dollar they make as they do in trucking. Margins are thin, competition is fierce and companies are constantly swimming upstream against some formidable forces, often regulatory. Yet when the people in this industry face a problem, they are remarkably adept at going out and solving it. Let me share a few examples:
Last year, Greer Hunt, owner of Hunt’s Transport with terminals in Hamilton, Ont. and Mount Pearl, Nfld. grew tired of Marine Atlantic’s unreliable ferry service. So he went out and leased a barge, on which he transports his trailers – 50 at a time – from Hamilton, along the St. Lawrence right through to Newfoundland. Marine Atlantic, who needs ya?
On page 60 of this issue, you can read about an ingenious solution to an age-old problem: how to safely remove snow and ice from trailer roofs. This is an issue that’s getting a lot of attention these days, with New Jersey doling out hefty fines to truckers who do not clear off their vehicles. The system is basically a catwalk fabricated within the walls of a decommissioned reefer trailer. The driver pulls alongside, climbs the stairs and uses a specially designed tool (a piece of hockey board on the end of a stick) to remove snow and ice from the trailer top. I’m told Robert Transport has a very similar system at its terminal.
Another example covered in this issue is Vedder Transport’s ambitious plan to build liquefied natural gas commercial cardlocks on its property in Abbottsford, B.C. and eventually along the route between the Lower Mainland and Alberta and then in other strategic locations within Alberta. Why? So the company can transition much of its fleet from diesel to natural gas, making it possibly the ‘greenest’ agricultural fleet in the world and shielding itself from wild and unpredictable diesel price fluctuations.
We all know there are advantages to fueling trucks with LNG. It’s more abundant than oil, it’s produced right here in Canada and it has always been considerably less expensive than diesel. Furthermore, a Canadian company, Westport, has developed a robust, mature fuel system that is up to the rigors of heavy Class 8 applications (Vedder’s LNG trucks will gross 140,000 lbs). All that’s holding the industry back from the more widespread adoption of LNG is the cost of the vehicles (funding is available, in some instances) and the availability of the fuel.
Vedder struck up a deal with gas supplier Terasen to not only offset the higher purchase price of LNG tractors but has taken it a step further and partnered to develop a fueling infrastructure that will eventually extend right across Canada’s two westernmost provinces.
In my interview with Vedder Transport president Fred Zweep, he said “There are a number of great fleets throughout Canada that have phenomenal entrepreneurs and interesting engineering minds who at one time or another have taken a leap of faith from a trailer perspective or tractor perspective.”
You, sir, are one of them. So I tip my hat to Fred, to Greer, to the folks at Erb and Robert and to every one of you who are not deterred by the many obstacles that are erected in your paths, but instead wake up each morning with a hunger to overcome them. You keep the wheels turning and the industry interesting to cover.