Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Tax will hurt, truckers say

with 6 comments


Well that is because it is supposed to change the way we do things. There has to be some incentive to change – and that needs both encouragement to do the right thing and a bigger reason to stop doing the wrong thing.

I have little sympathy for the truckers. Because they are putting our lives at risk, and they know that, and yet they want “help from government” to continue to do what they always have done. I have been trying to find a link to a story that was on Global tv last night, but so far with no luck. There was another one of those random crackdowns on trucks in West Vancouver over the weekend. As usual a very high percentage of trucks were found to be unroadworthy due to lack of basic maintenance. I think the figure was 50% of trucks being pulled off the road until they fixed basic things, like brakes.

Big Truck

Photo by Danny Brinkley

The trucking industry has been one of the least responsible of corporate citizens. In recent years the pressure has been put on the drivers, as companies have moved to make them contractors – “owner operators” – rather than employees. This shifts the burden of responsibility on to the shoulders of the driver, who now carries all of the risk, for very little reward. As diesel prices have risen, the rates for truckers have not increased, with inevitable results. I do not see that “throwing money” at this problem will solve it, it will merely perpetuate it.

We also know that the diesel exhaust is a human carcinogen. And that people who live along major truck routes are exposed to much higher levels of diesel particulates. While there has been loud and sustained pressure on transit operators to reduce emissions, I have seen very little activity from the private sector truck industry. Of course not. They work down to a price not up to a standard. And our children have elevated levels of asthma as a result. In my opinion this is not a good trade off.

The carbon tax does not have a big effect yet – it does have one special impact on BC however. Other jurisdictions do not have it – yet. And there is a penalty for being first. If the government is wise, it will start to encourage measures to reduce diesel use by truckers. There is a lot that can be done, just by upgrading the trucks and their maintenance standards. In fact cleaning fuel injectors is the easiest way to stop unburned fuel going up the exhaust stack. That plume of black smoke you see is just money being wasted. The sort of people who cannot be bothered to look at their brakes regularly, are not likely to do something technical and time consuming like engine maintenance. Port officials have been pointing out for a long time the number of empty trips that truckers are forced to make because terminal operators expect them to drop off a container, but not pick up a full one in the same trip. This is not rocket science!

The story talks about biofuels too, but I think there is a lot more that can be done to reduce truck fuel consumption rather than look for alternative fuels. Engine efficiency in European diesels has been much improved because of regulations by the EU: North America listens too much to truck makers and operators who have fought similar legislation here. Trucks in Europe all carry recording equipment, to ensure that truckers stick to the rules – about drivers hours, speeding and a number of other issues. Originally designed to level the competitive playing field, the consequences have been far reaching. Road safety being one major beneficiary. And we share the roads with these things.

I hope that for once Paul Landry does not have the ear of the provincial government. His activities through the Gateway Council have pushed the trucking agenda at our expense, and much of that turns out to have been a misrepresentation. The Gateway program is very bad for this region for a number of reasons, not least of which is the misperception that we “need” to invest in more infrastructure for truck movement, and not look at ways to make our transportation system more efficient and effective. And one of those things is looking at other ways of moving freight that are more energy efficient. Or reducing the amount of truck movement (and idling) by better scheduling. Do you think that those long slow moving line ups of trucks along Deltaport Way shut down their engines while they are waiting?

UPDATE  April 16

VANCOUVER SUN – Drivers caught behind the wheels of poorly maintained or neglected commercial trucks are facing fines of $100 to $1,300 in a two-day inspection blitz by Vancouver police, city and port officials and the Greater Vancouver transit authority.

Drivers are being ticketed for defective brakes, steering, structural defects, bald tires, and broken lights.

At Terminal Avenue and Carolina Street on Tuesday, the group inspected 54 trucks, pulling 24 out of service. It also suspended one driver who was impaired by drugs and issued more than $15,000 in fines.

A slightly better rate than the one reported in the original story, but still disgraceful. And this is not unusual or a recent phenomenon. The trucking industry must clean up its act, and that means taking responsibility for truck maintenance and replacement. The reliance on owner operators is very much against the public interest -a s well as the poor suckers who were persuaded to invest in their own trucks. Essentially, truckers, like taxi drivers, are forced to buy their jobs. This is, quite simply, wrong.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 14, 2008 at 6:27 am

6 Responses

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  1. The trucking industry certainly seems to get their own way. The railways have all but abandoned local delivery, instead concentrating on long haul trains and with means no development in this area.

    I believe truckers do not even come close in paying their true costs and with friendly governments protecting them, continue to be subsidized. In Europe, several countries, including Austria and Switzerland, now force truckers onto the railway if a commercial vehicle transited, the country. Railway companies are experimenting with DMU container trains (short one man operated container trains) for local delivery and even LRT operators are experimenting (Amsterdam) with container haulage through city streets via tram.

    Yet here, all we get is larger diesel trucks, hauling longer and longer trailers, demanding more and more roads & highways.

    Malcolm J.

    April 14, 2008 at 8:39 am

  2. You DO know that truckers are the ones who transport food and other goods to the grocery stores and markets where you shop, right? Or does the “grocery fairy” magically stock the store shelves?


    April 16, 2008 at 7:03 am

  3. Since I have worked in transportation for over 40 years and in many countries I suspect that my knowledge of logistics and distribution may be greater than yours.

    You DO know, don’t you, that this is a democracy that values freedom of speech and expression, and that the only people who desire to crush the legitimate expression of contrary opinions to their own are totalitarians?

    I also recognize a troll when I see one – but I will promise you I will neither visit your blog nor leave a comment. You may learn something, however if you stick around and read and try as hard as you can not to be gratuitously offensive.

    Stephen Rees

    April 16, 2008 at 9:03 am

  4. […] fit the brief of this blog. But most do not require much commentary. I have already updated the recent post on truckers as another crackdown, this time in Vancouver, reveals more neglect and danger to us […]

  5. Vehicles (including bicycles) are prohibited from Venice, and the shops get their goods by boat or handtruck (or both).


    April 16, 2008 at 11:27 am

  6. Delivery companies like FedEx and UPS seem to be able to maintain their trucks properly and thrive despite having to pass on their rising costs to customers.


    April 16, 2008 at 11:32 am

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