NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Though they may be neighbors, Canada the US aren’t exactly in line when it comes to trucking matters.
David Bradley, president and CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, gave a brief presentation to attendees at the joint PeopleNet and TMW in.sight user conference in Nashville this week, explaining the challenges, regulations and future of Canadian trucking.
The first major challenge that Bradley noted during his seminar titled ‘Trucking and Logistics: A Canadian Perspective’ was rates.
“In terms of the major challenges for carriers and the things that associations are least capable of dealing with, while most truckers are always fixated, are on rates,” he said. “That has been a reflection of the fact that for the most part over the last three decades the industry has suffered from excess capacity. In Canada and in the US, it’s the same with low barriers to entry, there always seems to be too much supply versus the amount of freight that’s being generated. There has been the odd period of time where things have been close to equilibrium…but that has been an issue for us. Rates have been much slower compared to cost increases. That’s the bane of the trucking existence I think.”
Another challenge Bradley noted is one that both the US and Canada suffer form today – the driver shortage.
According to recent studies and estimates, Canada will be short 33,000 drivers by the year 2024. Bradley said that there are a number of reasons for the shortage and admitted that compensation is always a large part of the problem.
“In Canada there’s been very little real growth in driver wages over the last two years,” Bradley said. “So in any market where there’s a shortage of something, wages should go up, but they have been held back by the excess capacity that we face. underemployment in Canada, it’s still been very difficult for industry to employ younger people into transportation.”
But the biggest reason for the shortage, according to Bradley, is that the workforce is aging rapidly.
“The average age of a truck driver in Canada…is just shy of 50 years old by a recent calculation,” he said. “One third of the drivers are over 50 years old and will be retiring in 5-10. We are losing tens of thousands of drivers per year to leaving the industry.
“And we’re not the only industry facing an aging workforce…but we’re not in the game in terms of attracting younger people. We’re not getting those young people in the industry. And the number of drivers under 30 is shrinking every year.”
When it comes to regulations and the pace of changing technologies, Bradley said that Canada and the US are both a step behind.
“We’re talking about ELDs like this is some new fandangled thing, at least we have been in Canada,” he said. “ But CTA was the first association in North America to support mandating ELDs. We’re also the first to mandate speed limiters and the US just recently announced this regulation. But while we were ahead of the game in the industry with ELDs…Canada has just announced finally that they will be moving mandating ELDs.”
The US has already set a date for compliance (December 18, 2017) and Bradley said he doesn’t believe that Canada will finalize the ELD rule in time to meet the American timetable, rather Canada will see a 2018 compliance date instead.
Bradley expressed that he also wished that more rules like ones surrounding ELDs and speed limiters could be harmonised between the two countries. But admitted this is difficult with how Canada delegates transportation regulations.
“The other problem we have inCcanada is unlike in the US where the federal DOT establishes regulation for interstate trucking, in Canada the federal government has delegated the administration of interprovincial or extra provincial trucking to the province,” he said. “So any changes that we want to make, we have to have all ten provinces and three territories on side. So it’s a like constitutional conference every time we try to make the slightest change to a Canadian regulation.”
Bradley said that this has prevented Canada and the US from reaching truly North American standards on things like safety features and weights and dimensions.
“Canada doesn’t speak with one voice,” he said. “Now the US doesn’t really pay much attention to us anyone but if we’re ten voices, it’s difficult to get anything done.”
In terms of the future of trucking, Bradley predicted that smart trucks will become even smarter are more safety technologies will become required on Class 8 vehicles.
“All those lane departure systems and those sorts of things that are become standards on new cars,” he said, “it’s just a matter of time before they are mandatory on trucks. And for all those drivers who will email and Tweet that this is the end of the world for life as they know, it’s not a recognition that there aren’t good drivers and that they aren’t skilled. But just that there is a segment of drivers out there where it wouldn’t hurt to have some supplementary system to help their own level of skill.”
He added that he believes that semi-autonomous trucks will be on the road sooner than anticipated but added that he doesn’t believe these ‘cool’ trucks will solve the driver shortage problem.
“I think that for those drivers who think that this is a way for industry to solve the driver shortage, it’s not,” he said. “Even in the semi-autonomous trucks, there are lots of things that drivers still have to do to be productive. I think the job may change a bit, but I don’t see it as a solution in the foreseeable future of the driver shortage.”
Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface. All posts by Sonia Straface