SPECIAL REPORT: Truckers taking on water as MA ferry delays persist

NORTH SYDNEY, N.S. — Take a number and wait. It’s the Canadian way. And it’s what truckers who use Marine Atlantic will be doing a lot more of.

The Crown North Sydney-Port aux Basques ferry says it will soon implement a number system to clear the backlog of trucks that forms when the service is experiencing delays, as (if you ask most truckers) it often does.

Local media reports that when the terminal lot is full and back-ups begin, arriving truckers will be given a number and told to park off-site. They will be contacted in sequence when it’s their turn to proceed to the lot.

Reportedly, Highway 162, Prince Mine Road has been approved for parking while truckers wait to board.

The MV Caribou is docked right next to the
new Atlantic Vision vessel that has yet to set sail

Last week the ferry had been dealing with a backlog of trucks in North Sydney that stretched onto the Trans Canada due to weather-related and mechanical delays. The MV Caribou vessel was docked for the latter part of last week with what truckers on the scene are saying is a broken crankshaft and the Leif Ericson was reportedly experiencing mechanical issues as well.

After being queued up for two days in North Sydney, a few owner-ops told todaystrucking.com that Marine Atlantic was keeping them out of the parking compound, despite there being enough space available (see photo below).

Similar problems plagued the ferry in November and December during the busy pre-Christmas season.

When delays occur, foodstuffs, perishable items and medical supplies are the most vulnerable and it has a particular effect on communities on The Rock, says Peter Nelson, director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association.

"It’s a tenuous lifeline to Newfoundland right now," says Peter Nelson, executive director of the APTA. "Newfoundland is an important part of Canada.”

However, while weather problems may be unavoidable, some drivers are resigned to the delays as part of everyday life riding the ferry.

Duane ‘Jake’ McCarthy is a Newfoundland trucker who’s been using the ferry service for about 30 years. He keeps a written log of all his trips on board the ferry. There was one crossing in October, he recalls, that took about eight hours to complete. But that’s a rarity.

A trucker who’s been parked on the Trans Canada
for two days snapped this pic of available parking at Marine Atlantic.
Drivers claim the ferry is telling them the lot is full.

From the time McCarthy visits the ticket window at his departing port to the time he drives off the dock on the other end, trips can average about 24 hours, he tells us. “I make 120 crossings a year … That’s a lot of time I’m not getting paid for," he quips.

Scott ‘Tiny’ Chisholm, a driver from Pictou, N.S. claims that while the ferry can use more capacity, that isn’t the main problem. "Dare I say, between management and the union — and I’m not anti-union — but it’s hard to tell who’s running the place. In order to change the service, it needs to be better managed."

Chisholm has been using the ferry service since he became a professional driver in 1977. He admits the Crown service — considered an extension of the Trans Canada — was once a well-run business, but it’s been slowly declining over the years.

“If it were a trucking outfit with four old trucks, it would have been in the ground in no time the way it’s run,” Chisholm adds. “If it wasn’t government subsidized, it wouldn’t be here today.”

But Marine Atlantic does have a vision — literally.

The ferry took possession of a new vessel recently, the MV Atlantic Vision. The ship is expected to enter service in April 1 and tremendously upgrades an aging fleet.

And now, with the federal government hinting at massive infrastructure investments in the region, Nelson says Marine Atlantic should push for some upgrades.

“We bring that up in our discussions with the government that highways are not the only area and it’s essentially a highway on the water,” he explains. “When we talk about infrastructure funding we need to look at not just the hard infrastructure like roads, but the water as well.”

Details are still hazy on how the new Marine Atlantic reservation system will work. The APTA, though, has been pushing for a system that gives priority to perishables rather than a first come, first serve basis.

"A load of lumber certainly has a longer shelf life than bananas or lettuce," he says. "We’d like to see a line up of lanes to separate perishables and non-perishables."


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