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Truckers protest as Marine Atlantic makes changes to reservation system (June 17, 2010)

ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. -- Marine Atlantic continues to modify its commercial truck reservations system to appe...

ST. JOHN’S, Nfld. — Marine Atlantic continues to modify its commercial truck reservations system to appease carriers both large and small, but the changes did little to quell complaints and a smattering of independent truckers picketed the ferry service yesterday.

Independent truckers have complained that large carriers book too much space on the ferries, spaces that often go unused due to cancellations.

To that end, Marine Atlantic announced changes to its reservations system on Tuesday that adjust cancellation and check-in times as well as the fee structure. The Crown Corp. is also set to roll out the online version of its commercial reservations system June 21.

The changes, Marine Atlantic claims, will result in improvements to the timely availability of bookings, the ease of making reservations and the timeframes for commercial customer check-in.

Among the changes, Marine Atlantic is extending the cut-off time for cancellations from 12 hours prior to departure to 24 hours, effective June 21.

“When a customer changes their requirements or a job doesn’t materialize, carriers are dropping bookings in the last few hours before the cancellation deadline,” said vice-president of customer experience, Don Barnes. “While this is certainly within the rules of the system, we have heard that it is difficult for another carrier to make and use a booking within that timeframe.”

“By extending the lead time for cancellations, the smaller and independent carriers will have more timely access to bookings,” Barnes added. “The independent truckers have told us that their biggest challenge is getting a booking at short notice, because much of their business is secured in the last 12 to 24 hours. This change means a significant improvement for them.”

Marine Atlantic is also developing a wait list, which should be up and running by early July.

“We are developing a wait list application for the system,” promised Barnes. “We are determining the parameters for a wait list and examining some technical questions from a systems perspective, but intend to have this in place as soon as possible.”

The ferry service is also changing check-in times for commercial units.

“We have determined that we can reduce the check-in times for tractor-trailer and drop-trailer units without affecting our ability to load the vessels and sail on time,” said Barnes. “As of June 21, the check-in time for tractor-trailers will be reduced from three hours to two, and from five hours to four hours for drop-trailers.”

The check-in time changes will not apply to oversized units or those with hazardous materials or livestock, Marine Atlantic notes. The check-in time changes will hopefully eliminate many late fees for carriers, which previously had to shell out $150 every time they arrived between three hours and two hours  prior to sailing.

Despite the rough seas encountered by Marine Atlantic as it has rolled out its commercial reservations system, not all feedback has been negative, the ferry service insists. Barnes said most commercial users are pleased with the service and have benefited from more predictable pick-up and delivery times, improved driver schedules and better utilization of equipment as well as the more timely delivery of perishables.

“We have heard from the grocery industry that their products are getting on the shelves more quickly and reliably since commercial reservations have been in place,” said Barnes. “This is one example of how consumers in Newfoundland and Labrador benefit from this new approach.”

“We recognize that there have been serious issues raised, especially from the smaller carriers,” added Barnes. “We understand the challenges they face, and are making these adjustments primarily to address their concerns.”

Still, the changes were not enough to deter about 20 truckers from picketing on Wednesday, according to a report from

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