Compliance: PIC of the Crop in Alberta

Last month, a group of Alberta truckers proved to me yet again why that province has some of the most innovative — not to mention idealistic — haulers in the land.

And I mean “idealistic” in a good way, not the cynical label some of this industry’s out-of-the-box thinkers get tagged with. Despite having no choice but to abandon the unique Partners In Compliance (PIC) program two years ago, the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) has agreed to give it another go.

Speaking to AMTA carriers at their annual conference in Banff, Roger Clarke, Alberta Transportation’s executive director of Vehicle Safety and Carrier Services, confirmed that Transport Minister Lyle Oberg has given the green light to begin retooling the floundering program. Hours before, the AMTA officially offered its support in resurrecting PIC, provided several problems are fixed. “It’s not that PIC had shut down, but there hadn’t been any maintenance done for a while,” Clarke said. “Now we’re open for business again.”

Established as a pilot project in 1995 by Alberta’s transport ministry and the Alberta Trucking Association (the predecessor of the AMTA), PIC was a voluntary, self-assessment program created so that reputable carriers could police themselves.

Participating fleets were required to exceed National Safety Code Standards, hours-of-service compliance rates, and several driver training and safety benchmarks in exchange for what was supposed to be relaxed scale enforcement, lower registration fees, and favorable notoriety among the shipper community.

However, it started to become clear as the program matured that very little of those incentives, if any, were bearing fruit. In fact, it’s remarkable how long the AMTA stuck with PIC the first time around.

The problem wasn’t that many of the standards were tough to achieve — no more than one reportable accident per million miles in city areas, 0.3 accidents per million miles in non-urban areas, and keeping under a 10-percent OOS rate, just to mention a few — but that reporting them was so incredibly arduous and administratively taxing.

Furthermore, officials didn’t properly market the program to either shippers or truckers, Clarke admitted in an interview. The extra business fleets expected for being a PIC carrier didn’t really develop. And not only should the program have attracted more Alberta carriers, but no other jurisdiction joined, nullifying PIC’s value outside its home province.

In fact, some carriers found the program actually worked against them outside of Alberta, claiming that PIC plates displayed on trucks really meant “PIC on me” to out-of-province enforcement officials.

Clarke and a core group of AMTA fleets have long insisted there’s much in PIC that was worth saving. He reports that during the program’s run, TDG document errors among members dropped to 3.6 percent while the industry average hovers around 18; CVSA OOS was 8 percent; prorate compliance 100 percent; HOS non-compliance was 1.9 percent; and collisions fell dramatically as well. So now the trick is to make sure those same issues that dragged PIC down the first time around don’t repeat themselves.

Both government and AMTA are working on several proposals, including: joint funding; expanding criteria to occupational health and safety; access to comparative data; and stronger administrative and consulting support for carriers needing help reaching the benchmarks.

Think about that. Here’s a program that will help you achieve some of the highest safety and compliance standards in North America for next to nothing.

But most importantly, the program will now include transponders to simplify reporting and ensure compliant carriers receive full highway-scale bypass. Carriers who feel the old PIC put a bull’s eye on their trucks want the transponders to replace the identification plates — although Clarke insists some carriers may still elect to, figuratively, wear their PIC badge on their sleeve. We’ll see about that.

As for marketing, Clarke says this time officials will take their message to other trucking associations and focus on selling PIC beyond Alberta’s borders.

Yeah, it would be nice if some other jurisdictions decided to follow Alberta’s lead one day. But even if that’s too idealistic, maybe the rest of Canada’s trucking associations could help out by at least asking their respective enforcement branches to quit hacking on Alberta’s PIC carriers for being a little creative. That would be a good start.

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