By Louise Yako
When the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) released the BC on the Move 10-year transportation plan on March 18, the BC Trucking Association (BCTA) was glad to see not only plans for infrastructure improvements, but also the more important message that BC’s economy depends on a safe, reliable and efficient transportation network.
The trucking industry accounts for 2 per cent of BC’s GDP, employs about 40,000 people, and is larger than other major industries, including forestry, pulp and paper, and oil and gas. There is tacit acknowledgement of the importance of our industry to BC’s economy in the 10-year plan, which embeds a trucking strategy.
As we face increasing globalization, the cornerstone of Canada’s economic wellbeing will continue to be an efficient and competitive transportation network. That’s why following joint federal-provincial projects to widen Highway 1 in the Lower Mainland, construct the South Fraser Perimeter Road and replace the Port Mann Bridge, Transport Canada has undertaken an early review of federal transport-related acts and regulations with a view to ensuring Canada’s transportation competitiveness for the next 40 years.
The top four BC on the Move priorities involve road infrastructure. That’s because trucks not only deliver 90 per cent of consumer products and foodstuffs to communities across BC, they are also the necessary link with other transportation modes, including cargo ships arriving at Port Metro Vancouver, railways, and air cargo terminals. And, in 2013, trucks transported 72 per cent of imports and 44 per cent of exports (by value) between the U.S. and Canada.
So BC on the Move has it right. Road capacity and conditions are crucial not only to the trucking industry but to the rest of us who need the goods it delivers. Long-distance trucking will particularly benefit from plans to reduce congestion and improve highway reliability, such as six-laning Highway 97 through Kelowna and improvements to avalanche infrastructure on Highway 1. Anyone who’s had to find a place to stay in Revelstoke or Golden due to an avalanche-related highway closure will have noticed the number of heavy trucks held up and waiting. It is a necessary safety requirement to reduce avalanche risk, but it`s also a time-consuming and expensive inconvenience for trucking companies and their clients.
In addition, growth in the resource sector, especially in Northeastern BC, requires the transport of very large and heavy specialized equipment and materials needed to build dams and natural gas facilities and install pipelines. There are trucking companies that specialize in this type of service – even to the point of designing purpose-built trailers to carry individual items efficiently and safely. Getting that equipment where it needs to go requires forethought and planning for loads that are higher, wider and/or longer than standard limits. BC on the Move commits to addressing infrastructure challenges and streamlining the permit process for oversized loads, making things easier for the trucking companies involved and the projects they’re supporting. Here again, what benefits trucking benefits the economy as well.
Finally, and although I mention this last, it’s by no means least important to the industry: the highway network and the municipal road system is the workplace of commercial vehicle operators. In many instances, there are insufficient places for truck operators to take a break, eat or use washroom facilities, even in our cities and larger communities. The ease and comfort in which truck operators are able to carry out their tasks and meet requirements to rest, check equipment, or complete administrative duties is one of the reasons that may discourage new recruits from entering the industry. Both young people and career-switchers are staying away from the occupation in droves, with a projected shortage of 2,200 to 4,500 drivers in BC by 2020.
More and better rest areas for drivers is a long-time BCTA policy, and BC on the Move recognizes this priority with plans for at least two new truck parking areas in the Lower Mainland and a commitment to identify locations for more, including parking and chain-up/chain-off areas on key highways and partnerships for new commercial truck stops and facilities. It’s a positive development to see the needs of commercial vehicle operators captured in a public 10-year transportation plan covering the whole province.
BCTA is looking forward to seeing these and other priority actions from the BC on the Move road map implemented – to the benefit of the trucking industry and all British Columbians.
Louise Yako is President & CEO,
British Columbia Trucking Association