Except for those who live in the northern-most or other remote regions of our country, Canadians tend to take for granted the idea that when we need a loaf of bread or gasoline or a new HDTV, it will be on a local store shelf or in a storage tank or warehouse. We forget the basic Canadian geography lesson: we’re the second largest country in the world (after Russia) but only 36th in population. Most of us live strung out along our southern border connected by, in some places, a relatively sparse network of highways.
That we can forget that lesson is a testament to the transportation systems we have built and the efficiency with which they are run by hundreds of thousands of men and women across the country.
Transport Canada says that transportation overcomes the challenges imposed by “topography and geography, linking communities and reducing the effects of distances separating people from each other.” Originally it was the railroad that united us, but nowadays it’s the trucking industry that guarantees that bread and gas and appliances arrive like clockwork at the retail outlets where we shop in communities across BC and Canada.
National Trucking Week, which takes place September 5 to 12 this year, celebrates the industry’s role in Canada. It’s a low-key event, and the onus is usually on the trucking industry to make some noise about it. But, it’s a good time to acknowledge that trucking supports and sustains us everywhere in the vast Canadian expanses that we all call home.
For example, trucking was responsible for 59 percent of the total value of all Canada’s trade with the US in 2009. According to Industry Canada, trucking revenue is estimated to be about $40 billion annually. For-hire trucking generates roughly $15.5 billion, more than rail, air and marine transportation combined. In BC, the industry’s share of the province’s GDP was 1.3 percent in 2009 or about $1.85 billion. And, these figures don’t include the contribution of private trucking companies that carry only their own goods.
Because the industry is involved in virtually every economic transaction and sometimes many times over in a product’s life cycle, trucking’s contribution to the GDP reflects the economy in general – more trucks on the road means that people are spending money on the goods that they need.
Trucking is also a major employer in Canada, providing careers for over 400,000 people. Driving trucks is still one of the leading occupations for men in the country. In BC and the Territories, for-hire companies employ well over 30,000 people, and this number doesn’t include drivers and others who work for private companies. Industry jobs are stable and well paid, not only for professional drivers but for transport mechanics, warehouse workers, IT and logistics specialists and administrative staff in communities across the province. Although BC is home to a few of the top 100 carriers in Canada, most trucking businesses here are small and family-owned, as they have been since the industry began in the 1900s. Chances are you know someone who makes a living in trucking.
Trucking shares community concerns about the environment and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Companies of all sizes are implementing strategies and investing in new equipment to cut diesel fuel usage. Company policies requiring zero-idling and speed reduction are becoming the norm. Recent model year trucks are also technological marvels – new engines are virtually smog-free, thanks to low-sulphur diesel fuel and stringent emission standards.
And, although our safety record has never been better, we continually strive for improvements. Heavy-duty trucks are involved in only 3.9 percent of all collisions in BC. In multi-vehicle fatal collisions, truck drivers were at fault 19 percent of the time, compared to 57 percent for the drivers of other vehicles. Reputable trucking companies take safety seriously, investing time, money and energy in training and maintenance to ensure high standards for our employees, equipment and cargo, not to mention other drivers on the road. That’s just good business.
Even 50 years ago, the Trans-Canada Highway didn’t quite exist from sea to sea. Now we can’t imagine what it would be like not to have a reliable network of highways and roads and the trucks and professional drivers that travel them bringing us the products that our families, businesses and communities need to thrive.
During National Trucking Week especially, I’d say we should be thankful that’s the case.
BCTA is the recognised voice of the provincial motor carrier industry, representing over 900 truck and bus fleets and over 250 suppliers to the industry. Over 13,000 vehicles are operated by BCTA members in BC. BCTA operating members employ 26,000 people in BC and generate over $2 billion in revenue in the province annually.