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Western showdown

EDMONTON, Alta. - The provinces of B. C., Alberta and Saskatchewan have earned the scorn of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) for their failure to adopt the national hours-of-service rules for all ...

EDMONTON, Alta. –The provinces of B. C., Alberta and Saskatchewan have earned the scorn of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) for their failure to adopt the national hours-of-service rules for all sectors of the industry.

Alberta and Saskatchewan have yet to adopt the national HoS rules for intra-provincial carriers and B. C. has granted exemptions to some sectors, threatening the harmonization of the rules that were more than a decade in the making. The CTA is not impressed; it has called upon the federal government to intervene and force the hands of these renegade provinces.

“For extra-provincial carriers, it’s critical that there be uniform hours-of- service regulations across the country,” Graham Cooper, senior vice-president of the CTA stressed to Truck West. “To do otherwise would not only create operational problems for carriers and drivers, but would also threaten to undermine safety. Imagine, for example, the situation where a driver is moving across three provinces with three different sets of rules. Depending on the degree of variance in the regulations, his drive/work/sleep patterns could be disrupted every time he crosses a provincial border. That of course implies that all provinces need to adopt the federal regulations for extraprovincial carriers, either by reference or through incorporation in their own rules.”

Cooper went on to say it’s unacceptable to have different HoS rules governing intra-and extra-provincial carriers.

“One of the key issues is the competitive imbalance that would be created within a provincial trucking market if, for example, the provincial rules were less stringent than the federal…the harmonization is supposed to extend to all commercial drivers, no matter where they live or where they drive.”

The double standard Cooper referred to is exactly what’s playing out in some regions, including Alberta. When contacted by Truck West, Mayne Root, executive director of the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) voiced frustration that the province’s Transport Minister seems to be bending to the demands of special interest groups representing certain sectors (namely logging and heavy construction), that have dubbed the new rules unworkable.

In Alberta, provincially-regulated carriers are still able to run according to the old rules: 15 hours a day, seven days a week in perpetuity.

“This makes it really hard for federally-regulated carriers to compete for any contracts within the province,” Root explained. “It’s a huge issue.”

The oil and gas industry has also been accused of seeking exemptions to the rules, but Patrick Delaney, vice-president of health, safety and government regulations with the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, insisted that is not the case.

In a letter to Truck West (which can be read in its entirety on pg. 28), Delaney explained the “oil and gas industry is not seeking exemptions from the regulations.”

Root agreed that Alberta’s oil and gas sector seems willing to work within the federal rules if required.

“The oilfield guys are looking for ways to deal with the new standard,” said Root. “They’re more than willing to give it a shot.”

On the West Coast, truckers who rely on B. C. Ferries to get to and from Vancouver Island are encountering problems of their own. Some drivers are running out of hours on the ferries, due to their inability to break up their sleeper berth time under the new rules. As a result, drivers are finding they are out of compliance when they arrive onshore and in some cases even driving their truck off the ferry would constitute a violation of the rules.

Paul Landry, president of the B. C. Trucking Association (BCTA) said his group agrees with the CTA’s position that national uniformity is required. However, he also pointed out there are “problems with the existing rules.”

“The rules don’t always make sense in all situations,” Landry admitted. But like the CTA, the provincial association opposes exemptions for entire sectors, such as logging.

“Fatigue is fatigue, no matter what you’re doing,” he stressed. “The rules should apply for everybody.”

The provincial associations appear unified on this front, despite the protestations of certain industry sectors or lobby groups and despite the ongoing complaints of many carriers. “The provincial associations are unified in the call for harmonized rules across the country and in their opposition to…exemptions,” said Cooper.

“That said, the associations collectively represent over 4,000 carriers. It would be naive of us to expect all these carriers to be fully united behind almost any position – the industry is much too diverse for that.”

The CTA does appear willing to accept the issuing of permits that would grant exemptions from the rules under extremely rare circumstances.

“At least in the case of a permit process, the regulator would have the ability to impose certain conditions, and to put the onus on the applicant to show that safety wouldn’t be undermined,” Cooper said.

Operators of service vehicles in Alberta’s oil and gas industries, for instance, can apply for a permit to extend their shift under limited circumstances, Delaney said. But only if the company boasts a stellar safety record and has a fatigue management program in place.

The issue of harmonization was touched on during the Ontario Trucking Association’s recent convention. OTA president David Bradley bluntly referred to the situation as “a dog’s breakfast” during a panel discussion on regulatory affairs.

Transport Canada’s Kash Ram said the agency is aware of the situation and added “We are in the process of briefing the Minister.”

Also on the panel was Milt Schmidt of the US-based Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and he gave OTA delegates another bone to chew on. The FMCSA is seeking to align its safety rating system with that of Canada so there is complete reciprocity by November, 2008.

“We’re about ready to accept Canadian data into our systems,” he said. However, if provinces are not adhering to the National Safety Code (including the national hoursof-service rules), they will not qualify for reciprocity, Schmidt warned.

The CTA plans to continue its efforts to have the national HoS rules adopted from coast-to-coast.

As Cooper said:”The bottom line is that if the human body needs seven or eight hours of sleep per day to counteract fatigue, and 10 hours offduty time is what it takes to get the right amount of sleep, it doesn’t matter whether you’re driving a tractortrailer between Toronto and Winnipeg or a logging truck on a highway in the B. C. Interior, you’re still going to present a safety threat if you’re sleep deprived.”

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