‘Unfair Playing Field’: Ontario Truckers Question Unplated Vehicles

TORONTO — There’s a discrepancy in Ontario between which vehicles are required by law to be licenced and which aren’t.

Specifically, the discrepancy lies within the types of vehicles that are considered “road-building machines” in Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act (HTA) and which are considered “motor vehicles.”

It’s an issue that perhaps many in the trucking industry have known about, but one that is only getting a closer look in the wake of a 70 percent heavy-duty commercial vehicle licence fee hike by the province.

That fee hike, which began last December with a 30 percent increase and the remainder to kick-in December 2013, sparked a campaign by the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) to “put the brakes on the 70.”

“It’s hard to put into one category, but they tend to be mobile cranes, street sweepers, pumpers — vehicles like that. In a nutshell, these vehicles don’t pay any fees, which makes them, in terms of revenue generating vehicles, no different than a bicycle,” said Marco Beghetto, VP Communications and New Media at the OTA.

But for John Greedy of Jack Greedy Limited out of Bolton, ON., it’s an “unfair playing field.”

“All of us with licenced vehicles are getting hit with a 70 percent increase — now these unplated guys have a bigger windfall,” Greedy stressed. “There are people out there running the roads that are charging big money per hour and don’t have the expenses. The inconvenience of having your vehicle emission tested every time you go to licence it, having the safety done you gotta take it off the road — these guys don’t even have to take it off the road, they just keep on trucking.”

So why do they get to “keep on trucking?”

Beghetto says that nobody really knows. It’s always been there and is termed as a “historical exemption.”

Asked for clarification on the issue, MTO spokesperson Bob Nichols pointed towards the Highway Traffic Act (HTA). According to the HTA, the only type of vehicles that are allowed to run unplated are those defined as a “road-building machine”, commonly used in the construction or maintenance of highways.

The definition for “road-building machine” has a degree of wiggle room:

“road-building machine” means a self-propelled vehicle of a design commonly used in the construction or maintenance of highways, including but not limited to,

(a) asphalt spreaders, concrete paving or finishing machines, motor graders, rollers, tractor-dozers and motor scrapers,

(b) tracked and wheeled tractors of all kinds while equipped with mowers, post-hole diggers, compactors, weed spraying equipment, snow blowers and snow plows, front-end loaders, back-hoes or rock drills, and

(c) power shovels on tracks and drag lines on tracks […]” 

The section also notes that a commercial vehicle cannot be considered a road-building machine — so a carrier can’t tack a mower onto a tractor and run it without plates.

But, as Nichols pointed out, “The HTA, subsection 7(1), requires a motor vehicle while on a public highway to have a valid permit and to display number plates with evidence of validation on the plate. A fee must be paid to validate a permit for a motor vehicle. Since road-building machines are not defined as motor vehicles, they do not require a permit or number plates.”

The difference, it seems, is in the definitions. Which definition — “motor vehicle” or “road building machine — does a snow plow truck fall under?

Nichols also pointed out that road-building machines are exempt from registration in Ontario “when they are used specifically for the purposes of maintaining or constructing highway infrastructure.”

Clearly, there are unplated vehicles that aren’t “specifically” being used for maintaining and constructing highways, which begs the question: where is the loophole? Shouldn’t these vehicles always be carried to the job-site? Are companies falsifying records? Is there a  bureaucratic disconnect somewhere?

MTO wouldn’t comment. But pressed further on the difference between the reality of the number of unplated vehicles not doing highway infrastructure work versus the rather malleable HTA regulations, Nichols said “MTO and other provincial roads authorities are currently working with the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators on harmonizing vehicle administrative practices across the country. Ontario has raised road-building machines as an item to be considered.”

There’s some good news in that it looks like the provinces will be harmonizing HTA regulations, but it also indicates that MTO is aware of the issues surrounding road-building machines.

And while MTO didn’t expand on the details of what the provinces are discussing, Nichols did say that in regards to the 70 percent hike, road-building machines “usually travel shorter distances at lower speeds than is the case with commercial motor vehicles, and their impact on the wear and tear of highway infrastructure is limited, compared to larger commercial motor vehicles. Also, the number of motor vehicles using Ontario’s highways, is much greater than the number of road-building machines.”

“Tell me those cranes with 30 or 40 wheels aren’t putting a toll on the road,” Greedy commented when told of the response. Those vehicles also still contribute to traffic congestion and emissions. (They’re also exempt from paying fuel taxes, confirmed the OTA.)

For Greedy and many other company owners, that’s the issue: if a vehicle, no matter its purpose, uses the roads, then it should be plated.

“We don’t know how much of the burden on the trucking industry would be alleviated,” Beghetto said of requiring currently unlicenced vehicles to be plated, “but what you definitely have is a potential revenue stream that the government isn’t taking advantage of. If these trucks were charged licences and renewals, the revenue generated would help reduce the burden that the trucking industry is dealing with right now.”  

For more information on the Highway Traffic Act, click here.

For information on OTA’s campaign, click here.

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