TORONTO, Ont. -- The provincial government has quietly removed the 'pilot' tag from Ontario's long combination vehicle (LCV) program while doubling the number of carriers that can participate.
"The ministry is moving forward with a limited expansion of the Long Combination Vehicles (LCV) Program starting in March 2011," Emna Dhahak, senior bilingual media liaison officer with the Ministry of Transportation confirmed to Trucknews.com. She said that to date, 80 permits have been issued to 40 carriers. This year, an additional 40 fleets will receive two permits each, Dhahak added, effectively doubling the number of carriers involved in the program as well as the number of LCVs approved for travel in Ontario.
However, each carrier will still be limited to just two permits this year, which has caused some grumbling among the fleets who helped pioneer the program. Some of the first fleets to climb aboard Ontario's LCV program have invested millions in equipment, training and facility upgrades and had hoped the program would allow for more than two permits.
Doug Switzer, vice-president of public affairs for the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), contends that any progress should be seen as positive.
"The fact they added more carriers is good news," Switzer told CTL.ca. "The program continues to expand, although not as quickly as we would like."
Switzer went on to say trucking companies should not have expected to see aggressive growth for the project in an election year.
"I know there were hopes that there would be more permits (per carrier) this year, but the brutal reality is that it's not the year the government is looking to make bold decisions," he said. "The realities of (election day) Oct. 6 loom large for the government and broadly expanding the program at this time was not really in the cards."
He said the removal of the 'pilot' designation is largely symbolic, but it indicates there is a stronger commitment to maintain the program.
"That takes away some of the uncertainty," he said. "The future of the program was never in doubt, but it could have been cancelled (at any moment). They've raised the number of carriers by 40 and they've taken away the pilot label and made it a regular permit program."
Dan Einwechter, chairman and CEO of Challenger Motor Freight, said he's encouraged by the program's expansion and hopeful the program will soon offer more flexibility to participants. Challenger purchased 600 LCV-configured trailers last year, giving it the capacity to run 1,200 trailers in LCV operations at any given time. For now, however, it will continue to be limited to two permits - in Ontario, at least.
"I really appreciate both the expansion of the program and the removal of the pilot designation," he told CTL.ca. "Yes, we've made a significant investment in the appropriate equipment and we would like to have more leeway in its utilization. I guess we will keep our fingers crossed and hope for a broader allowance for those carriers that have proven themselves."
There continues to be a waiting list for carriers looking to join the LCV program, Switzer said, although not all fleets that have received permits have put their LCV equipment on the road as of the program's winter shutdown. Also in 2011, membership in the OTA or Private Motor Truck Council of Canada will continue to be a prerequisite for entry into the program.
"MTO has worked in partnership with the OTA and PMTC to establish the LCV program," Dhahak confirmed. "Carriers wanting to receive LCV permits are still required to be members of the OTA or PMTC."
As for the early adopters who may be frustrated at the two-permit limit, Switzer said he's empathetic but reminds them that the provincial LCV program has made significant gains in recent years.
"I certainly feel for those carriers," he said. "It is frustrating, for sure. But it has been a frustrating issue for 30-odd years. When viewed in the broader historical context, we've come a long way with LCVs in the last number of years compared to the previous 30 years of frustration where the door was shut and the government would get up and walk away from the table when you said 'LCV'."
Under the pilot program, Dhahak said there have been 21,000 LCV truck trips covering 6.6 million kilometres in the province.
"The LCV Pilot Program has been a success," she declared.
"Our experience during the pilot program has proven the economic benefits of LCVs," Dhahak added. "LCV operations enable shippers to move goods more efficiently by reducing the resources required for each move. LCVs reduce fuel consumption and related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by approximately one-third. LCVs also provide congestion relief on GTA highways by shifting truck movements from peak to non-peak hours. They are good for the economy, good for the environment and improve highway safety."