Learning Curve: The value of doubling up

by Array


In Ontario, long combination vehicles (LCVs) are classified as tractor-trailers pulling two full-length trailers, with the entire combination not exceeding 40 metres in length. These combinations are already used in most Canadian provinces. In summer 2009, LCV operators in Ontario began a LCV pilot project—in co-operation with Quebec and other provinces—that allowed LCVs on specific highways to and from approved destinations.

As of February 2011, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has made that pilot program into an official LCV program. To date, 80 permits have been issued to 40 carriers. This year, another 40 fleets will receive two permits each. Those fleets consist of carriers, private fleets and third-party logistics providers in Ontario. No more than 100 trailers in the LCV project are in service during off rush-hour times on Ontario’s 400 series highways.

The Ontario Trucking Association co-operated in the launch for the LCV presence in Ontario. Many of the participants in the program are hoping for an increase in the number of permits issued to expand their fleets. Hopefully, this will increase ROI and provide more service to their clients.

The MTO is expected to continue allowing LCV permits after a winter break, based on regulations that limit LCV use from December to February.

Allowing LCVs is advantageous to fleet owners, since it allows them to optimize their transport service by increasing freight-per-kilometre, reducing fuel costs and freeing up resources.

Doubling up truck freight capacity lets private fleets keep more of their trucking in-house, reduces the need for more staff and eliminates some of the need for outside carriers to offset volume demands. While the maximum weight allowance on LCVs is the same as single trailer loads—63,400kg—many shippers with lighter loads can take advantage of the additional space and efficiency.

As well, for-hire carriers can offer a wider range of clients more service and flexibility for both LTL and full-load shipments. The MTO reports the LCV program is a success, with 20,000 LCV trips covering six million kilometres made in Ontario in 2010.

Increasing trailer combinations appeals to many fleet owners looking for a way to offset rising fuel, insurance, equipment and labour costs, along with increased emission control regulations. The initial investment in equipment, planning, proposals and training forced some carriers to decline participation in the program. But for many fleet owners, LCVs represent a long-term strategy to increase productivity and tackle ever-present driver shortages.

Members of the trucking community in several provinces have suggested harmonizing the LCV permit process among provinces, a process already underway in western and eastern Canada. LCVs take more trucks off the road and force fleet operators to organize routes using off-peak schedules.

Multiple benefits

Reports show LCVs have a 60-percent lower collision rate than single-trailer trucks. The extensive training and additional qualifications needed by LCV operators mean only transport drivers with a proven track record and clear driving history can participate in the program. Certified driver trainers with qualifications related to LCV fleets take trainees through extensive orientation and instruction to prepare them for this certification.

The LCV program has helped to professionalize an occupation that at times has suffered from a poor public image, as well as an unregulated and non-standardized training structure for licensing preparation. Carriers, private fleets and 3PL operators are subject to a higher standard than other road transportation service providers. Provincial governments have developed guidelines on equipment upgrades, dimensions, coupling and routing to ensure LCV operators follow standard operating procedures.

Hopefully, the future of LCVs will involve a Canada-wide network of interprovincial permits, but this depends on government approval based on safety ratings and public opinion.

What does the future look like for LCV fleet operators? According to one private fleet owner, LCVs have reduced the need for outside carriers. But their use hasn’t brought a change in modes of transportation. The limited number of LCVs in operation doesn’t give trucking companies an advantage over rail and probably won’t impact the rail business. But LCVs are ideal for time-sensitive freight, for regular lanes not covered by rail and when intermodal doesn’t make sense.

Rail meets the criteria for reduced emissions and congestion, as well as reduced risks to safety. Still, trucking is the dominant shipping means and will probably continue to expand.

The Ontario government is pushing a green energy agenda and trucking has seen equipment upgrades to meet new environmental standards. Government has recognized the value of trucking and industry members are ready to embrace efficient and effective solutions. Expanding the LCV program is a great idea and current participants have shown they’re able to meet the objectives for industry, government and the public: less cost, waste and risk.

Tracy Clayson (tracy@in-transit.com) is managing partner, business development, of Mississauga, Ontario-based In Transit Personnel.