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Industry Issues: Decision on Canadian Sleeper Berth Exception Down to Wire

It seems obvious. It seems to make sense. If Canadian carriers and Canadian drivers want to be able to compete for transborder freight and be legal in both countries, Transport Canada and the provinci...

It seems obvious. It seems to make sense. If Canadian carriers and Canadian drivers want to be able to compete for transborder freight and be legal in both countries, Transport Canada and the provincial governments must adopt a sleeper berth exception. This is not a situation created by the Canadian trucking industry or by the Canadian governments, but it is a reality.

So, let’s get on with it, you say. We couldn’t agree more. But with the institutions and processes that we must go through to make regulatory change in Canada – e.g., the CCMTA – things are never so simple. It is likely that this issue, like so many others will go down to the wire. The evidence seems clear. Canada must make its hours of service rules for time splitting compatible with the U.S.

At the request of CCMTA, CTA recently engaged transportation economist Fred Nix to conduct an economic impact assessment of what will happen if the new Canadian hours of service regulations do not contain a provision to enable solo drivers operating vehicles equipped with a sleeper berth to split their daily rest time.

Nix analyzed the operations of 17 motor carriers across Canada, who in aggregate operate about 9,500 power units and account for over 19,000 drivers – both employees and owner/operators. His examination focused on actual routes, both domestic and cross-border, currently being serviced by these carriers.

Through analysis of driver logbooks and discussions with company managers, he determined that for the industry sector most affected – principally long-haul truckload operations – trip times could be expected to increase on average by 9.7 per cent.

This translates into a direct loss of productivity for the industry, either through reduced revenues, increased costs, or a combination of both. Nix estimates this productivity loss at between $460 million and $800 million per year for the affected industry sector. Half a billion to more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in increased cost is alarming.

The increased trip times have their largest potential negative impact on transborder routes, where the assumption is made that Canadian drivers operating sleeper berth-equipped trucks will need to take at least nine hours off duty before beginning the driving shift that will bring them back to Canada. As Nix points out, “on cross-border operations these carriers will be competing with American-based carriers who do not have to bear the increased costs associated with the loss of split sleeper-berth provisions in the hours of service rules. This will tilt the competitive advantage on cross-border business in favour of American-domiciled firms and threaten a significant portion of the $6.8 billion that Canadian carriers earn on this business.”

In other words, while productivity may decline by up to 10 per cent, it could result in a loss of 100 per cent of the business. Such is the nature of competition.

In addition, the report points to the potential for disruption of the competitive playing field between U.S. and Canadian carriers, resulting from the inevitable uneven enforcement efforts by provincial governments against carriers from the two countries.

Most hours of service infractions are detected through facility audits, which would seldom – if ever – be conducted by Canadian officials on U.S.-based carriers. U.S. drivers using the U.S. sleeper berth provision would be in breach of Canadian regulations when they enter this country unless their last off-duty period before beginning a driving shift was at least eight hours. However, such infractions by U.S. drivers would not in most cases come to the attention of provincial enforcement authorities.

Nix calculates there are 5,000 U.S. trucks equipped with sleeper berths operating into Canada each and every day. Obviously, to ensure that this number of drivers is in compliance with Canadian rules would require an enormous and prohibitively expensive increase in provincial enforcement resources. It won’t happen.

Although the Nix report deals exclusively with economic issues, carrier feedback obtained during the gathering of information points to a very clear and substantial safety concern that would arise if Canadian drivers are not permitted to split their rest time in a sleeper berth.

Any off-duty time which, during the day totals more than two hours but less than eight hours, would not be credited toward the minimum rest time required by the regulations. This would lead to a direct loss of productivity by reducing the available driving time, and thus a clear disincentive for the driver to rest for short periods when he feels the need.

It would seem the governments’ decision is clear. But, it looks like we will all have to stay up to well beyond the bottom of the ninth to see whether they will do the right thing and adopt a sleeper berth exception for Canada. n

– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

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