After enduring an unprecedented crisis brought on by a killer pandemic originated in a faraway land, the trucking industry has not only rebounded but set to surpass pre-Covid levels, executives at Canada’s trucking hub told Road Today.
“Based on customer feedback, the outlook for 2021 is pretty good,” said Gurpal Singh Sidhu, CEO of D’Alliance Motors, a mid-size fleet based in Mississauga, Ont.
D’Alliance has 70 trucks and about 80 drivers, almost all of them employees.
An all-reefer fleet hauling food, D’Alliance did not encounter any problem during the pandemic as the demand for food remained high.
“We just parked for two weeks at the height of Covid, and that was because the drivers were a bit scared,” he said.
Sidhu said companies operating dry vans are now entering the reefer sector because of the soaring demand.
D’Alliance itself is planning to hire more owner-operators.
Harb Lidder, president of Trilink Logistics of Bolton, Ont., is equally optimistic about 2021. Trilink has 70 trucks and 125 drivers.
“We are positive, and our customers are also projecting increased volume,” he said.
“We are adding 25 trucks in the first quarter,” Lidder said. The company may also consider ordering electric trucks, he said.
Lidder, however, acknowledged that finding qualified drivers would be a problem.
He said it is very difficult to get insurance approval for new drivers, with each company facing different (insurance) criterion.
For example, his company can only hire people 24 and older with at least one year of experience.
“It is not easy to find them.”
He said there are some good drivers who want to work for the company, but the insurer won’t approve them.
And Lidder said, those who get insurance approval don’t want to go longhaul or work five days in a row.
“Driver shortage is a real problem.”
The optimism of Sidhu and Lidder is based on solid gains.
Loadlink Technologies, a freight-matching company based in Mississauga, reported in December that Canadian spot market grew for a seventh consecutive month in November.
That was the longest streak Loadlink has recorded since tracking the data, the company said.
And in the U.S., industry forecaster FTR reported a massive swing in its Trucking Conditions Index.
In October, the index hit a reading of 16.17, the highest level in 30 years after slumping to –28.66 in April.
FTR earlier reported that freight growth exceeded expectations in the third quarter. It said trucking rates were up about 2% in 2020 compared to 2019.
The company has projected another 8% increase for 2021, unthinkable just a few months ago.
Dealerships are also reporting robust demand.
“Our order board is full till July. It is busy, and 2021 will not be like 2020,” said Gurminder Ahluwalia, account manager at Premier Truck Group, a major dealer for Freightliner.
He expects business to grow at least 10%-to-15% in 2021.
“Now is the time to place orders because the factory is getting busy,” Ahluwalia said.
Indeed, the demand for both tractors and trailers are rising.
Transportation intelligence provider ACT Research has projected that commercial vehicle demand will remain strong heading into 2021.
Trailer orders are also rising sharply, with ACT Research saying that preliminary data point to six consecutive months with solid year-over-year gains in net orders.
No ELD concern
Sidhu of D’Alliance said his company is ready to implement the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate when it comes into force June 12.
Industry lobbying groups such as the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) have urged the federal government to postpone the deadline, saying the timeline is unrealistic and many fleets would not be able to meet it.
Sidhu has no such worries because he said his drivers are already using ELDs on trips to the U.S., where the device has been mandatory since December 2019.
Still, he is skeptical that the Canadian mandate will come into force as planned.
“I don’t think it will happen. June is so close, and many companies are not ready. They might extend (the deadline).”
Lidder of Trilink said his company is also ready to embrace the ELD mandate.
“Our fleet is 100% equipped with ELDs,” he said.
He doesn’t foresee any problem come June 12, as all of Trilink’s drivers are familiar with the system.
He said Trilink’s transition would be very smooth.
“Nothing to worry because we are prepared for it,” Lidder added.
Talking of the scandal surrounding the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), Sidhu said it is a stain on the trucking community.
There have been allegations that some fleets are cashing in on the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process, which allows companies to hire people under the TFWP.
Before any foreigner can be hired for a particular job, employers have to prove that no Canadian is available to fill the position, and that is done through the LMIA process.
A positive LMIA could fetch tens of thousands of dollars, but selling them for cash is against the law. The government has vowed to crack down unscrupulous fleets and immigration consultants involved in the scam.
“This is a bad thing. We don’t charge a penny for this,” Sidhu said.
Lidder of Trilink said he is aware of the LMIA scandal, but Trilink itself doesn’t charge potential employees any money.
“We are lucky that we have reliable drivers. We are happy for them and they are happy for us.”
He said if someone from the community abuses the system, the authorities will look at everyone with suspicion.
“And, that is bad (for the community).”
By Abdul Latheef