Western trucking industry dreams of better times

by James Menzies

CALGARY, Alta. – Canada West Foundation (CWF) hosted its Building the New Dream Conference in Calgary Mar. 6-7, hoping to shed new light on transportation’s role in Western Canada.

Connecting the New West to the World, was the theme, and conference co-chairman, Preston Manning, kicked off the conference with a brief synopsis of the overall goal.

“What we’re trying to do is get the transportation story – particularly the future story – together in such a way that if it was communicated properly, it would raise transportation infrastructure on the personal, corporate and public agendas of everyone across the country,” says Manning.

During the course of the conference, however, it was abundantly clear the current state of transportation in the west is more of a nightmare than a dream.

Seven sectors were identified in the months leading up to the conference, including: rail; truck/road; marine/ports; electricity transmission; pipelines; air; and urban transport.

Sector leaders were appointed for each of the transport modes represented, and they worked with others from within their respective industries to form a ‘dream’ of what they’d like the future to hold in store for their particular sector.

The trucking group was headed by Reimer Express Lines president and chief executive officer, Allan Robison, and Kindersley Transport vice-president, Doug Siemens.

Manning told each of the groups that money shouldn’t be considered a deterrent when forming the new dream. And it’s a good thing, too. Each sector was able to identify solutions to the majority of the problems facing its respective industry, but most of those solutions came with a multi-billion dollar price tag attached.

Trucking was no exception.

Robison presented the new dream for Western Canada’s roads and trucking sector.

He says when Manning visited his Winnipeg office and asked him to help form a dream for the future of the trucking industry in Western Canada, it was no problem at all.

“What he didn’t know is that I always dream about highways,” jokes Robison. “In fact, my wife will tell you she knows what part of the Trans-Canada Highway I’m on based on my snoring.”

For the most part, the trucking sector decided its dreams could come true if the federal government would revitalize the national highway network. However, the trucking industry may have to keep on dreaming, since it’s estimated it would cost about $17 billion to bring the nation’s highways up to suitable standards.

“Our first dream is that it’d be nice to get those roads to where they need to be,” says Robison, of the 536,900 kilometres of highways in Western Canada. “Canada is the only large industrialized nation in the world that does not have a national highway funding program.”

The trucking sector compiled a map outlining what needs to be done within the next 30 years to make the industry’s dream a reality. A number of highways need to be twinned, while others must be upgraded to accommodate higher traffic volumes.

In order to get the work done, Robison says government needs to reconsider the way it perceives the highway network.

“The question we keep asking ourselves is, is this a cash cow, or is this a wealth generator?” asks Robison. “Highways are not a cash cow and if we think that way then that cow is going to die.”

The trucking group also had a number of other concerns that would need to be alleviated to achieve the new dream. For one, the Kyoto Accord is causing considerable unrest in the industry.

“Our group has come to conclude that we really don’t know what Kyoto means,” says Robison. “We really aren’t sure where it’s going and we’re really not sure what it’s going to cost.”

However, he adds the industry is already on pace to accomplish one of its goals, with essentially emissions-free engines expected to hit the market by 2007.

The trucking industry would also be living a dream if a number of other key issues are addressed, Robison says. Those include: less congestion in urban areas; enhanced border security without the delays associated with it; the harmonization of regulations between provinces; improved safety; and better productivity.

The group concluded they’re all attainable goals. For instance the more widespread use of long combination vehicles will go a long way towards increasing productivity, it says.

“I like to be here in Alberta where they understand that the longer combinations on the highway actually reduce the pollutants, they actually reduce the number of vehicles on the road and improve safety,” says Robison.

Harmonizing weights and dimensions is another important step, he adds.

“If I take a truck and I leave Montreal to go to Vancouver, I have to go through several provinces to get there so I have to pick the most inefficient combination in order to make it,” says Robison.

Another way of realizing the new dream is by embracing new technology as it becomes available. For instance: weigh-in-motion scales; tires that automatically adjust pressures; transponders that can immediately locate and track vehicles; wildlife detection devices; and in-cab computers that transmit information about road conditions can all improve efficiency.

The $17 billion infrastructure facelift aside, achieving the Western Canadian trucking industry’s new dream isn’t unattainable, the group concludes.

“Let’s make the dream work – let’s make it come true,” urges Robison. “There it is, now hopefully we can get it done.”

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