Its hard to appreciate just how fast global warming has gone from a confusing issue shunned by politicians and the public alike to an issue that may very well decide the next election. While the reasons behind the ascendancy of global warming on the public agenda are complex, the impact on transportation is clear.
Considering transportation activities generated more than one-quarter of Canadas greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2004 and accounted for 28% of their growth from 1990 to 2004 (during which time GHG emissions from transportation increased 30%) it wont be long before transportation captures the attention of politicians, lobby groups and the public. And trucking is the mode most likely to go under the magnifying glass, largely thanks to its success. From 1990 to 2003, the amount of freight carried by the for-hire trucking industry grew nearly three times faster (75%) than all other modes combined (up a collective 27% over the same period). The popularity of just-in-time freight delivery also contributes to GHG emissions because trucks are making more trips.
If as a country we are going to get serious about bringing our GHG emissions under control, obviously transportation, and trucking in particular, will have to play a large role. All options for reducing truckings GHG footprint should be considered based on their individual merits. That task will be a challenge not only for motor carriers but also for politicians, lobby groups and a public that has over the years become used to allowing fear to override logic when it comes to transportation policy. The saga of long combination vehicles (LCVs) in Ontario is a perfect case in point.
A recent study by Transport Canada examining costs of traffic congestion for Canadas nine largest urban areas estimated that about half a billion litres of fuel are wasted annually because of congestion. This amounts to between 1.2 million tonnes and 1.4 million tonnes of GHG emissions. LCVs, long in use in Western Canada and Quebec, can play an important role in reducing congestion and GHG emissions. Studies show that using LCVs can reduce vehicle kilometres by 50% for the same volume of cargo.
Early results from a soon-to-be released study on LCV use, conducted on behalf of the Ontario Trucking Association in collaboration with the Canadian Trucking Alliance and Natural Resources Canadas FleetSmart program, showed an average saving of up to 28L/100km (2 MPG) for LCVs against tractor-trailers for the fleets included in the study. This adds up to a savings of up to 1.8 billion kilometres of truck travel annually, and energy savings of 260 million litres of fuel annually. The magic number is GHG reductions is 730 kilotonnes.
Yet Ontario continues to balk at allowing LCVs on its roads. Bison Transport, a market leader in the use of LCVs out west, offered to beta test them for Ontario. The province wasnt willing.
Why does Ontario continue to snub LCVs despite their obvious advantages? In the words of Ministry of Transportation of Ontario spokesman Bob Nichols: The Ministry of Transportation appreciates many drivers and passengers have concerns about sharing the road with longer trucks and understands more work needs to be done by industry to reach out to stakeholders and the public on this issue.
In other words, LCVs are not a politically palatable issue because Ontario voters dont want to see longer trucks on the highways. Yet concerns about LCV safety are clearly not well founded. Over the more than 30 years of LCV operations in Alberta, LCVs have been found to be involved in fewer collisions per million vehicle kilometres of travel compared to average commercial vehicles. In fact, LCVs have the lowest collision rate of all vehicles classes in Alberta, according to a four-year study conducted by Woodrooffe and Associates. A review of literature on the safety record of LCVs in Canada published by the Canada Safety Council found that there is little difference in accident involvement rates of LCVs and other trucks when operated under similar conditions of weather, road and driver experience.
It is the responsibility of elected officials to show leadership, particularly on complicated issues such as global warming. Rather than shunning LCVs because of unfounded public safety concerns they should be doing their utmost to educate the public on the benefits of LCVs and rushing to get them on the road.
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