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Viewpoint: Political Ignorance Leads to Traffic, Emissions Troubles

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton's recent remarks about the need to take trucks off the road drew quick response from irate trucking industry leaders.



New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton’s recent remarks about the need to take trucks off the road drew quick response from irate trucking industry leaders.

But I’m afraid Layton’s remarks point to a distinct lack of understanding among many politicians – of all stripes – about the role of transportation in our economy that will require much more than quick retorts to rectify.

It’s the same lack of understanding that caused the Liberals to greatly contribute to emission-causing congestion problems over the past decade by neglecting our infrastructure. It’s the same lack of understanding that makes it necessary to wait 12 years to get test trials for energy-efficient triple trailer units in British Columbia. It’s the same lack of understanding that has resulted in ill-advised and wasteful border security practices that will create even more congestion south of the border.

The push for modal transfer at the heart of Layton’s remarks will not go away; it will deepen as Ottawa gets serious about meeting its Kyoto Protocol commitments. And the fact that trucking is a target should not come as a surprise.

Trucking is a victim of its own success. Total freight transportation energy use for all modes increased from just over 600 petajewels to about 900 petajewels between 1990 and 2001. And it’s true the lion’s share of this growth came from energy use by trucks. So it’s no wonder some politicians are taking aim at the trucking industry – and also a perfect example of the simplistic reasoning that’s causing them to bark up the wrong tree.

Look deeper into the numbers and the main reason for trucking’s disproportionate growth in energy use over that time period is its disproportionate share of growth in freight activity. Its 94 per cent freight growth, according to government’s own figures, is more than three times that of rail and four times that of the marine sector. As I said, trucking is a victim of its own success.

But dig deeper into the numbers, once again, and it’s clear the industry – thanks mainly to the push from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – has not stood still in dealing with emissions. The 2004 engines have reduced NOx from 10.7 g/hp-hr (grams per horsepower hour) in 1998 to just two g/hp-hr and particulate matter (PM) from .6 g/hp-hr to a mere .1 g/hr-hr.

In 2007 emissions will be reduced a further 90 per cent to 1.9 per cent of 1987 NOx levels, and just 1.7 per cent of 1987 PM levels. That’s a 98 per cent reduction of those two emissions compared to 20 years ago and demonstrates a strong commitment to environmentally sound practices.

That’s a message that has to sink through to policy makers.

As Ottawa moves to meet its Kyoto targets, tough decisions will have to be made. Obviously there is still a great deal of work required to educate many of the decision makers.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached at lsmyrlis@businessinformationgroup.ca or 1-416-442-2922.


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