Three weeks after the government unequivocally rejected their demand, Ontario dump truck operators organized a “day of action” in Toronto on Wednesday, taking their grievances over changes to weights and dimensions to provincial politicians.
With the slogans “Don’t Dump on Us” and “Dump Trucks Move Our Economy” emblazoned on their rigs, the protesters first went to the constituency offices of local members of provincial parliament (MPPs), seeking their intervention to resolve the dispute.
They later gathered outside the Ontario Legislature before driving in a convoy to the office of Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney in Holland Landing, Ont.
It was the third dump truck protest in as many weeks – the first was held in Toronto on Dec. 10 and the second in Windsor, Ont., on Dec. 28. But unlike last time, Wednesday’s protest was supported by other truckers as well.
MTO reiterates policy
The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has made it clear that it will start enforcing Ontario Regulation 413/05: Vehicle Weights and Dimensions for Safe, Productive, Infrastructure-Friendly (SPIF) Vehicles on New Year’s Day.
The regulation was introduced in four phases during 2000-11, and operators have had nearly 10 years of grandfathering period to comply with the rule.
That deadline expires Dec. 31.
Trucks with SPIF configurations are allowed higher weights, while non-SPIF vehicles will be restricted to operating at lower weights.
“We have a responsibility to keep Ontario’s transportation network safe and reliable,” the ministry said in an email to our group publication Today’s Trucking on Wednesday afternoon, reiterating its intention to enforce compliance.
“This regulation will remain in place, and there is no viable reason to waver from it,” it said.
The ministry added that the onus has always been and continues to be on carriers to do their due diligence, and comply with any regulation that would ensure critical infrastructure is protected.
“Carriers who are unable to comply by Jan. 1st will not be pulled off the road. They may continue to operate their vehicles at a reduced weight,” it said.
‘No meaningful consultation’
The Ontario Dump Truck Association (ODTA), which organized the protests, has been spearheading the campaign against the SPIF regime.
The ODTA told Today’s Trucking on Wednesday that the Jan. 1 date had not been shared or communicated to drivers until very recently.
“Further in 2016, the government gave assurances that nothing would take effect without the agreement and engagement of the industry. There has been no meaningful consultation, or addressing of valid concerns, while accommodations have been made for other categories of trucks that have the same build, such as cement trucks,” the association said.
The MTO, however, said it had held extensive consultations with the industry before adopting the regulation.
The ministry also said that on Dec. 29, it invited all stakeholders, including the ODTA, to a virtual briefing to answer technical questions ahead of enforcing the law.
The ODTA did not respond nor participate in the call, it said.
The association defended its absence, saying setting up a last-minute technical briefing is not particularly helpful, and hardly qualifies as engagement.
“We have asked for a proper meeting to address and resolve the issues. Not a technical briefing.”
Still, the ODTA said it was hopeful of a positive outcome.
“Yes, we are confident that once the government realizes how unfair and impractical these measures are, they will act to help support drivers and the industry,” it said.
The group is urging the province to allow all triaxle dump trucks to operate at maximum weights for the life of the vehicle without SPIF-related restrictions.
“The solution is to simply grandfather these trucks for their full lifespan as they have for other categories of trucks such as cement trucks,” the ODTA said.
“This is what should have been done a decade ago. Asking independent truckers to spend $25,000 to $40,000 on a retrofit that is not even readily available, or operate at one-third reduced capacity is unreasonable.”
Major trucking groups such as the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) and the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) are supportive of the SPIF regime, which they say will help ensure road safety.
They have also urged the government to stick to the timeline.
The ODTA called their stance disappointing.
“This specific issue impacts dump trucks. Those organizations do not represent these drivers, and it is disappointing that they are not standing in solidarity with us,” it said.
The Ontario Aggregates Trucking Association (OATA), meanwhile, issued a statement supporting the protest.
It urged the government not to enforce the regulation Jan. 1, and to engage with the industry to reach a solution.
“Further, as members of the industry with deep knowledge of the trade, we reject the suggestion that the trucks in question pose any kind of safety risk,” the statement added.