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Where to park?

TORONTO, Ont. - Everybody knows there aren't enough truck stops in Ontario, let alone Canada. Everybody including the provincial transport ministries. But does that mean Canadian truckers are any clos...

TORONTO, Ont. –Everybody knows there aren’t enough truck stops in Ontario, let alone Canada. Everybody including the provincial transport ministries. But does that mean Canadian truckers are any closer to getting regular showers, shaves, laundry facilities and decent meals for $10, never mind the sleep required by hours-of-service rules where and when they need it?

That all depends on how quickly private investors pick up on the huge niche that’s been created by an ever-growing trucking industry coupled with a dearth of places for truckers to park.

“There’s nothing written in the Ontario budget as far as a commitment goes,” says the Ontario Trucking Association’s vice-president of public affairs, Doug Switzer. “All we’ve ever heard from the ministry is ‘We’ll take a look at it.’ There’s been no money set aside for this so far.”

The federal government doesn’t mess with highways as they are under provincial jurisdiction, so it’s up to provincial trucking associations like the OTA to lobby governments to do what they can to increase truck parking along highways.

According to Switzer, nowhere is the need for adequate truck parking facilities felt more greatly than along routes in northern Ontario.

“One thing we have done recently is try to make the Ontario government aware that the parking situation for trucks is a hundred time worse in northern Ontario,” says Switzer. “They’ve promised to look at it and they’re even considering possibly turning some of the snowplow turnaround areas into rest areas in the summer, but that still doesn’t take away the chronic shortage of stops in southern Ontario.”

As for rest stops near the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., Canada’s biggest gateway to truck-hauled trade with the US, facilities are few and far between, says Switzer.

“There aren’t really rest stops at the border, basically truck drivers have to stop on their way there,” he says.

Truckers travelling from out east have no doubt already noticed the closure of some travel centres in Ontario along the 401 and 400 this summer. (When fully operative, there are 23 in total in Ontario. Unlike the US government, Canada’s federal government does not track the availability of rest stops for truckers).

According to Switzer, the Ontario government is trying to find new private operators (not oil companies, but property development companies) for these southern Ontario travel centres “presumably offering better services, like showers, truck washes etc., better than the Wendy’s/Shell combo they’re currently getting,” he says.

The MTO, for its part, confirms Switzer’s claims, but implies any growth on the number of truck-friendly rest areas will depend largely on private investment.

“The Ministry of Transportation recognizes the need to provide all travellers, including truck drivers, with opportunities to stop and rest during their travel in order to find comfort and fight driver fatigue,” says MTO senior media liaison officer Bob Nichols. “Over the next five years, Ontario’s 23 highway service centres along Highways 400 and 401 will be modernized to better serve both commercial and private motorists. In addition, there are numerous privately-operated service areas located at or near interchanges along our freeways that also provide rest opportunities for all travellers.”

Nichols admits that the growing volume of truck traffic will necessitate an increase in truck parking areas. “Given that the volume of truck traffic is growing, it is reasonable to expect a corresponding increase in demand by the trucking industry for safe, accessible truck parking.”

But the MTO will confine its contribution to solving the problem to the service centres that already exist, at least along the 401 and 400 highways.

“As part of the highway service centre redevelopment project, a request for proposals is currently under development that will outline our facility requirements and service expectations for a new service provider. The ministry will require that the renewal of the service centres provides adequate facilities and amenities for all motorists including commercial drivers to rest for extended periods, eat, obtain fuel and do minor vehicle inspections,” says Nichols.

As for northern Ontario routes, the dearth of available parking space for tired and hungry truckers is currently “under review.”

“As part of our long-term planning, the ministry will also be reviewing northern Ontario highway corridors, particularly along Highways 11 and 17 to determine strategic opportunities for rest stops for both commercial and private vehicles,” says Nichols. “This review is expected to result in a broad strategy and a set of guidelines for the development of rest stops across this part of the province.”

Nichols did not give a timeline for the development of further rest areas in northern Ontario.

It seems that, as always, Canadian truckers are being left to grumble about a situation that shows few signs of improving.

“If anything, the situation is getting worse,” says Caravan Logistics general manager, Kevin Snobel. “Probably more so because of the hours-of-service changes over the last few years.”

In the meantime, some of Canada’s biggest trucking companies are left to fend for themselves, and hope for an affordable solution from the private sector.

“One can’t help but wonder why someone isn’t seizing the opportunity,” says Switzer. “A Flying J wouldn’t require that much from the province – in fact, all they’d have to do is get a local municipal zoning adjacent to the highway. Of course there would be no direct highway access.”

Former Erb driver, now driver-trainer, Mick Sayer agrees, and suggests some American companies are already picking up on the need for truck parking in Canada.

“Flying J is one of the largest groups in American truck stops and they are building in Canada,” says Sayer. “Most recently in Winnipeg, Calgary, Thunder Bay and Saskatoon – and I believe they also have a stop planned in Vancouver, which is a very bad area to park a truck.”

How long before Flying J moves to Ontario, or whether Canadian truck stops like Husky pick up on the need for truck parking in Canada’s busiest cross-border province, remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, lack of direct highway access is exactly what has trucking company executives worried that private investment will result in higher operating costs.

Some private investors in the US have already started tolling off-ramps accessing rest stops in New York State, says Ray Haight, executive director of MacKinnon Transport, based in Guelph, Ont. and chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association.

“Not only is the (US) government selling off the assets of taxpayers, the trucking industry is paying for it,” Haight says.

“The problem is the stops have all been owned by oil companies,” points out Switzer. “And their priority has been to sell fuel. They could care less about whether a truck driver needs to sleep or do his laundry.”

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