Port Metro Vancouver empowers some truckers, shuts out others

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A major Canadian port has unveiled another step in its reformed drayage system – a reduction in nearly 600 trucking licenses for drivers who work at the port daily.

Port Metro Vancouver announced Friday, Jan. 23, it had approved 68 trucks and 1,450 trucks to work at the port. That’s down from a reported 2,000 trucks that served the port last year.

Louise Yako, president and CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association, said opinions about the change vary depending on which trucking company representative she hears from.

“The ones who are approved – they really don’t care why they were approved because they ended up on the right side of the fence,” Yako told Land Line Monday, Jan. 26. “What we’re trying to do now is get a bit more information about companies who were not approved and find the exact reasons their applications were denied. We’d like to get more transparency regarding the screening process.”

Yako said Port Metro Vancouver has made dramatic improvements for truck wait times after doubling truck gate hours last July and increasing the number of truck reservations per day by more than 20 percent.

The port may have been better served to wait to decide on a number of appropriate truck licenses until other modifications aimed at improving cargo flow are implemented and studied, Yako said.

“It’s not clear whether the system is optimized yet,” Yako said. “It doesn’t make sense to identify the correct number of trucks yet. Once they are optimized, then you could make some projections about the ideal number of trucks. It’s kind of like putting the cart before the horse.”

Economic forecasters have predicted continued boosting of container exports to be shipped from Vancouver, Yako said. The increased traffic could mean more trucks are needed at the port. The province’s trucking commissioner has authority to increase the number of truck licenses, she said. Many of the truck drivers and companies shut out by Friday’s announcement operate equipment that is tailored for drayage and may not be able to wait for licenses to be adjusted to meet the changing market, Yako said.

“We have a whole series of companies that have historically operated in port container movement,” Yako said. “Some of that equipment – specifically chassis and trailers – are really not useful in any other kind of application.”

Michelle Mann and her husband, who work for Safeway Trucking, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) they and others have lost their jobs due to the changes.

“There are about 600 drivers who are out of a job,” Mann told the CBC. “Even the companies who have been established for years – what are they going to do with their equipment? What are they going to do with their trucks? What do you do if your life is trucking and you get a letter on Friday at 3:30 p.m. saying you’re done?”

Peter Xotta, Port Metro Vancouver’s vice president of planning and operations, said in a written statement the change was necessary in part because of overcrowding among port drivers.

“For years, the container trucking sector that serves Port Metro Vancouver has been unstable and drivers have found it increasingly difficult to make a living,” Xotta said in the statement. “There is widespread agreement there are too many trucking companies and drivers, which has resulted in undercutting and other problems.”

The port used a broad range of criteria in selecting companies that would be allowed licenses under the new system, Xotta said, including ability to pay fees and meet “minimum environmental and safety standards.”

Truck driver Tom Johnson told the CBC some of the companies the port selected have a checkered past.

“Looking at the companies they accepted, it really contradicts what they’re saying,” Johnson told the CBC. “Some of the companies have old trucks. Some of the company owners have been bankrupted in the past.”

Xotta said truck drivers who lost their ability to work at the port will get help from the port.

“Unfortunately, this means not everyone who I currently licensed to access the port will be licensed going forward, but a generous transition program is being offered to those drivers.”

For previous Land Line coverage on the reformed license program at the Port of Vancouver, click here.

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